Vulcan Insight

EU leaders accept UK decision not to extend Brexit transition period

15 June 2020

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson today (15 June) met, via videoconference, the Presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament for a high-level conference to take stock of the ongoing post-Brexit relationship negotiations.

As expected, and announced by UK Minister Michael Gove on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson today formally informed the heads of the three EU institutions that the UK Government would not request an extension of the post-Brexit transition period past its deadline of 31 December 2020.

Today’s high-level conference between Mr. Johnson and the EU Presidents was agreed on by the parties in last year’s EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement which set the framework for the UK to leave the EU’s political structure by 31 January 2020 and the Single Market by 31 December 2020. Under the protocol, the parties could have agreed on a one-time one- or two-year extension should negotiations on a post-Brexit trade agreement be stalled by June.

Over the past months, however, the negotiation stalemate and UK Government’s refusal to request an extension became progressively clear. Despite the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier and UK Chief negotiator David Frost held four formal negotiation rounds. Yet, there have been clear and deep divisions between the EU’s and UK’s objectives and goals, with Mr. Barnier accusing the UK Government of stalling and refusing to negotiate on the most important aspects such as fair competition, fisheries, services trade, cooperation and governance.

Today’s announcement further raises the pressure on the two negotiating teams to reach an agreement in the coming months to avoid the threat of the UK leaving the EU’s Single Market, on WTO terms, without an agreed economic trade framework. While Prime Minister Johnson and the EU’s three leaders agreed to intensify the negotiations in July to allow negotiators to make progress, given the deep divisions between the parties, few expect a comprehensive free-trade agreement to be agreed by October/November.

Meanwhile, the European Commission is increasing its no-deal preparations and updating its preparatory notifications for businesses. In the days and weeks to come, EU Affairs Ministers and EU Heads of State and Government will also have to decide whether to change Mr. Barnier’s negotiating mandate to allow him to reach sectoral agreements or an agreement of substantially limited scope.