At a press conference in Brussels on October 18, UK Prime Minister Theresa May stated that the United Kingdom might consider a short extension of the transition period to ease its exit from the European Union. According to Aljazeera, although the country’s deal with the European Union has been 95 percent settled, the Irish border problem still remains a major issue. May’s attempt to resolve the Brexit negotiations by extending the transition period end date of December 2020 has further angered pro- and anti- factions in her Conservative Party. However, BBC reports that a short extension might help resolve the current deadlock over Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland border.
In an interview given to BBC, EU Council president Donald Tusk stated, “If the UK decided the extension of the transition period would be helpful to reach a deal, I am sure the leaders would be ready to consider this positively.” Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission also said in a statement that the extension is more likely to happen as it can allow more time for the UK and the EU to draw up their long-term relationship. Mrs. May herself said to the British Parliament that the extension could be “a further solution” to ensure that there is no hard border in Ireland. According to a statement made by Nigel Dodds from the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, the extension would only cost UK billion of pounds and not change the fundamental issue with the EU’s backstop plan.
From the very beginning, it was apparent that finding a solution to the Irish border problem within a two-year implementation period would most likely be impossible. International agreements take many years to conclude, for example, the Canada-EU free trade deal took eight years. The UK and the EU need more time to negotiate and reach a viable agreement to resolve the border issue in Ireland. Although the extension might cause the UK to pay more money since the EU budget finishes on December 2020, it will ultimately allow both the UK and the bloc to find the time to build a future long-term relationship. The extension would also help London to avoid the backstop plan for Northern Ireland, which could mean that Northern Ireland would possibly not remain within the EU customs union.
The Aljazeera article states that both the UK and the EU are keen to avoid a hard border. Both parties are willing to accept a backstop solution only if the UK is not able to come to a comprehensive agreement following withdrawal from the EU. However, since the backstop solution would keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union, it could also mean that the border between the UK and EU in the Irish Sea would be redrawn, which London fears might happen. The transition period is due to start on March 29, 2019. With the extension, it may take up to almost six years for the UK to officially leave the EU after the referendum was announced on June 23, 2016.
Another year to the transition or implementation period might give the EU and the UK more time to pin down all the proper political and legal arrangements that will be needed in the future. The backstop plan on the Irish border could also be avoided, thereby maintaining a long-term relationship between the UK and the EU. However, if the UK doesn’t extend the transition period and fails to come up with a proper withdrawal agreement, conflicts between the UK and the EU are bound to occur. Therefore, more negotiation time is needed for the UK and the EU to settle all the issues pertaining to the UK’s departure from the EU. Peace and security can further be established between the UK and the EU when both parties come to a shared agreement by the end of the extended transition period.
Sunayana Limbu is a Master’s student in Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Her previous work experience includes Amnesty International USA, and the UN Commission on the Status of Women to the US Department of State. Her area of interest lies in the intersection of women, civil society, peacebuilding and security. She is also interested in Asian politics, diplomacy and policy.
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