Background Briefing: The Government’s Leaked Position Paper on Transition


On Wednesday 21 February, a leaked document entitled ‘Draft Text for Discussion: Implementation Period' was circulated online. This text is a response to the European Commission's position paper on transitional arrangements from 7 February. Open Britain’s assessment of that particular document can be found here. Both the Government and the EU27 are aiming to reach an agreement on transition by the 22/23 March European Council.

This document includes Open Britain’s top lines on transition; an assessment of the Government’s position; and a Q&A on Open Britain’s position.


Top Lines

  1. The proposed ‘transition’ to an unknown destination will start once we’ve left the EU but we should not leave the EU until we know where we are going. We should not leave the EU until the Government can show us they have negotiated a deal that delivers the ‘exact same benefits’ that they have promised.
  2. Transition is no safe harbour. It simply delays jumping off a cliff. It kicks all the difficult decisions (on future trade, Ireland, etc) into the long grass. Transition is less like building a bridge and more like being made to walk the plank. There’s no guarantee the Government will sort out the future arrangements even in the two-year transition period. These flaws can be avoided by staying in the EU, at least until we know what our relationship will be with the EU in the future.
  3. All transition does is move us from rule maker to rule taker at the point the UK leaves. The transition proposals give us no say or influence over lots of things that will affect our economy. All the Government have managed to negotiate in two years is the loss of our seat at the table. And a £40 billion bill just for the transition period. That is losing, not taking back control.


Assessment of the Government’s position

The length of the transition period – a never-ending road to nowhere?

  • Whereas the European Commission’s position[1] suggested a transition period until 31 December 2020 and the Prime Minister in her Florence speech suggested that a transition period should last about two years[2], today’s document - whilst indicating a desire for a 2 year transition - clearly spells out that “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”. This suggests that a lengthier transition is highly possible.


Taking back control? In fact, “rule maker” to “rule taker”

  • The draft text would essentially see the UK signing up to all EU rules during the transition period, without having a say on them and in no way reflects the Vote Leave mantra of “taking back control.” If anything, today’s text cedes control. The Government’s position couldn’t be more transparent: “Unless otherwise provided in this part, Union law shall be binding upon and applicable in the United Kingdom during the period.” It goes on to say: “During the period, the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union shall have the powers conferred upon them by Union law also in relation to the United Kingdom…”


Security & home affairs issues – more, not less alignment

  • Following the Prime Minister’s Munich speech, where she conceded that there is no security agreement outside the EU which matches the one which the UK enjoys inside the EU[3], today’s document actually indicates a desire to participate in more, not less co-operation with the EU: “The UK would be able to participate in new Justice and Home Affairs measures and provisions of the Schengen acquis by mutual consent by the Union.” 


International trade – no guarantees about rolling over agreements with third countries:

  • The position paper underlines that the Government accepts that it would not be possible to enter into new trade partnerships during transition. It also seeks to keep the UK in existing bilateral arrangements, despite the fact that the Government itself issued a technical note on 8 February, conceding that this might not be possible.[4] Third countries such as South Korea and Chile have already been clear that they would look to secure concessions from the UK under any such roll-over attempts.[5]  


Fisheries – no more voting rights:

  • In the past, Government Ministers have suggested that outside the EU, the UK would be able to set its own fisheries policy and take back control of its own territorial waters. However, today’s text accepts that the UK will be losing its voting rights on fisheries policyand seeks to look for future agreements between the UK and EU on international fisheries negotiations – a worse position than today, where the UK has a formal seat and voice at the negotiating table.


The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has spoken in the past about the transition phase being a “bridge” to the future UK-EU relationship.[6] However, as things currently stand, with no clear relationship in place, the transition phase merely cedes control and is a very rickety bridge to an uncertain future. 

With barely over 13 months to go until the UK leaves the EU, the clock is ticking. The Government’s continuing failure to resolve the contradictions inherent in its own position on Brexit means everybody has the right to change their mind on whether this is the right path for our country.