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Brexit: Transition… or Extension?
By John Bruton, Taoiseach 1994-1997 and IIEA Board Member

In the UK’s EU withdrawal negotiations, both sides need more time to work out the meaning and implication of Brexit before the die is cast. In this paper, former Taoiseach John Bruton argues that the two-year period for negotiating Brexit can, and should, be extended.

The two-year time limit to conclude the negotiation of the terms for UK withdrawal from the EU is, as we are slowly learning, far too short.

The risk of the UK simply crashing out of the EU, remains high. The fact that Mrs May has had to postpone her planned speech on Brexit, points in that direction. So does her slap-down of Philip Hammond for saying that the changes in the EU-UK trade relationship would be “modest”. That slap-down is hardly consistent with her promises in regard to the Irish border, which still have to be converted into Treaty language.

The gap between popular expectations, and practical possibilities, remains dangerously wide.

The implications of UK withdrawal have not, even yet, been fully discovered by the negotiators on either side. New complications and hypotheses are emerging every day. These arise because we are only now digging down into 40 years’ worth of trade deals, memberships, and understandings, which the UK can only be part of, so long as it is in the EU.

The UK can only continue to enjoy these arrangements, as a full EU member, because common rules only remain common as long as there is a common, authoritative, interpreter of the rules. The UK rejection of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) destroys all this.

The UK hopes to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, but to continue to have access to the EU market for a two-year Transition Period, ending on 29 March 2021. This date was presumably chosen because it is before the scheduled date of the next UK General Election.

It would be in the interest of Ireland if the UK were to decide either not to leave the EU at all, or, failing that, decide to re-join the EU, on terms acceptable to Ireland.

How might this happen? This is the question I am attempting to answer in this paper.

I believe this Transition Period approach is a mistake. I believe it would be simpler and wiser for the UK and the EU to agree to extend the period for negotiation under Article 50 by two or more additional years. This can be done by unanimous agreement.

This paper can be read here.