“They think it’s all over”
The UK formally left the EU at 11pm GMT on Friday 31st January. In keeping with his election slogan “get Brexit done”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has banned the word Brexit from the Government lexicon. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay resigned at 11pm that evening, and his Ministry was disbanded. Job done.
Well, not quite. The future relationship between the UK and the EU remains largely undefined, beyond some high level aspirations set out in the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement. Those include a zero tariff zero quota free trade arrangement, preservation of the EU’s Single Market and its “four freedoms”, respect for the UK’s ability to pursue an independent trade policy, and some ambiguous (see below) wording about ensuring fair competition.
Negotiations to reach an agreement to fulfil those aspirations will take place through the coming year, during which the UK’s relationship with the EU remains essentially unchanged (though the UK has ceased to play any part in EU decision-taking). This “implementation period” (actually a negotiating period) can be extended by mutual agreement for up to two years. Any such extension must be decided by the end of June. A number of EU leaders and some commentators and business representatives on the UK side have said that extension will be necessary for any meaningful Free Trade Agreement to be concluded and ratified, and to allow business time to prepare. But the UK Government has been adamant that the “implementation period” will not be extended beyond 31st December 2020, and has indeed legislated to that effect.