Whitehall leak: No 10 denies plans for ‘indefinite’ Brexit transition period

Written by Tamsin Rutter and John Ashmore on 22 February 2018 in News

Government insists agreed transition will have an end date, ahead of a Brexit war Cabinet meeting in Chequers 

Theresa May will today hold a Cabinet meeting in her country retreat Chequers. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA 

No 10 has moved to deny that a leaked Whitehall document suggests the Brexit transition period could be longer than two years.

The document, a draft of the UK’s position on what kind of implementation period should follow Britain’s departure from the EU in March 2019, argued that it should last as long as it takes to prepare the systems necessary for a future UK-EU relationship.

But a Downing Street spokesperson insisted “there will be an end-date included in the agreement” drawn up with Brussels, as Brexit-backing Tory ministers called on prime minister Theresa May to disown the “deeply troubling” document.

This afternoon May heads to her Buckinghamshire estate, Chequers, with the 10 senior ministers in her “Brexit war Cabinet” and officials including civil service head Sir Jeremy Heywood, where they will attempt to thrash out the UK’s final negotiating position.


The draft position paper leaked on Wednesday states: “The UK believes the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership.

“The UK agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date.”

While this suggests the government is still aiming for a two-year transition period, MPs on both sides of the Brexit debate have claimed that the wording implies the door should be left open in case preparations or negotiations take longer.

The leak came after a group of 62 Tory MPs wrote to May setting out their demands for EU withdrawal, including “full regulatory autonomy” and the ability to negotiate trade deals “immediately”, regardless of any implementation period. 

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said he wants 31 December 2020 to be the Brexit transition end date, which would make it a period of 21 months. This is at odds with the two-year period desired by the UK government, which has insisted further talks are required to reach an agreement.

The draft document, obtained by Bloomberg News, also includes plans to create a joint committee to “supervise the Withdrawal Agreement” and protect “the rights and interest of both parties”.

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Tamsin Rutter and John Ashmore
About the author

Tamsin Rutter is senior reporter for Civil Service World and tweets as @TamsinRutter. John Ashmore is news editor for Politics Home, where a version of this story first appeared

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