Although many commentators argue that this election is extremely difficult to predict, let’s assume that polls suggesting a Conservative majority turn out to be correct. In that case, the expectation would be that the new government would be able to secure the passage of its Bill implementing the renegotiated draft Withdrawal Agreement. The UK then has a transition period until 31 December 2020 in which to agree a deal with the EU on the future relationship. Is that deadline realistic?
Just for once, even though we are talking about Brexit, there is a straightforward answer: No. Here’s why:
Time needed for negotiations on the future relationship
Michel Barnier, the EU’s Chief Negotiator, has recently suggested that the UK may need an extension of the transition period to allow time to complete the negotiations. His comments were echoed by outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in an interview this week. If an extension is to be put in place, the draft Withdrawal Agreement makes it clear that this would need to be agreed with the EU by July 2020. The UK government, however, is insisting that there is no need for an extension and that the future relationship can be negotiated in time for the UK to exit the transition by 1 January 2021. It argues that, because the UK and the EU are already closely aligned, a free trade agreement should be quite straightforward to negotiate. It also points to its success in achieving a relatively swift renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement as an example of how progress can be made relatively quickly.
It is likely to be very challenging to get a comprehensive free trade agreement agreed with the EU by December 2020.