File picture: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth.
File picture: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth.

How Britain could still face a cliff-edge Brexit

By John Chalmers Time of article published Nov 25, 2019

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BRUSSELS - "Get Brexit Done", British

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's election campaign catchphrase

that promises a clean departure from the European Union, is much

easier said than done.

Even if Johnson wins next month's election and takes Britain

out of the bloc on Jan. 31, his government and the other 27

member states of the EU will have an 11-month transition period

to negotiate a future relationship.

If they fail to hammer out a new trade deal by the end of

2020, which experts say is likely, and they fail to agree to

extend the transition period for more negotiations, Britain will

effectively be facing a disorderly no-deal Brexit again.

The following explains how that could unfold.

Brexit 'gets done' on January 31

If Johnson secures a parliamentary majority in Britain's

Dec. 12 vote, as opinion polls currently suggest he will, he

will move quickly to put the Withdrawal Agreement reached with

the EU27 last month through a more compliant parliament.

Jill Rutter, an expert at UK in a Changing Europe

think-tank, said that getting the bill through before the end of

December looks impossible but it could be fast-tracked to ensure

a formal exit from the EU by the deadline of Jan. 31.

11 months until next deadline

If that were to succeed, after Jan. 31 Britain will enter a

transition period during which it will negotiate a new long-term

relationship with the EU27.

This could run until the end of December 2022 under the

current rules, but in its election manifesto released on Sunday,

Johnson's Conservative Party set a hard deadline of the end of


Johnson's government and some EU officials have said it

would not be difficult for Britain to reach a trade agreement in

11 months because they have common regulatory starting points.

"We already start from a position where the EU and the UK is

aligned, we are agreed on all the key principles," Britain's

finance minister, Sajid Javid said on Sunday.

Not enough time

However, a senior EU diplomat said that only in his "wildest

dreams" could he envisage settlement of a future relationship by

the end of next year.

The deadline is unrealistic, not least because conventional

free trade agreement negotiations tend to take place over years,

with regular breaks between negotiating rounds, said Joe Owen of

the Institute for Government.

But even if they aimed for what officials in Brussels have

described as a "bare bones" free trade agreement, the two sides

would run into disagreement on "level playing", or fair

competitions provisions on labour, environment, state aid and

other standards.

The EU would insist on these to protect its single market

from dumping prices or other types of unfair competition from

Britain, a big economy and an immediate neighbour.

"If Johnson...wants any chance of getting a deal on future

relations negotiated by the end of 2020, then he would need to

make some big concessions," Owen said. "Tariff and quota free

trade will come at a price – following EU rules and, most

likely, a continued role for the European Court of Justice."

Ratification and risk of veto

If London and Brussels did manage to reach agreement on deal

on future relations by the end of next December, there would be

many procedural hurdles to clear.

It would require approval in the European Council of member

states, and ratification by the European Parliament, national

parliaments and subnational parliaments such as Belgium's three

regional assemblies, which could potentially veto it.

Owen said the process could take years and will cast a

shadow over the talks.

"A deal has to be agreed and ratified by December 2020 or

the UK will be facing its next no-deal cliff edge – the point at

which arrangements covering everything except for the Irish

border, citizens' rights and the UK's financial settlement will

simply fall away," he said.

Will Johnson have to extend again?

Johnson would not have long after the future relationship

talks get under way to avoid the cliff edge. If he wants an

extension by one or two years the transition period beyond the

end of next December, he must request it by June 30, 2020.

"No extension risks leaving either with no deal, or a

minimalist deal which looks quite like no deal. At the moment

that seems to be where the government is heading," said Rutter.


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