Ministers 'coming round' to transition period delay idea – but firms urged to remain ready

Mon 6 Apr 2020
Posted by: Ana Pintor
Trade News

As negotiations about the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU have reportedly ground to a halt amidst the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to seek a delay to the transition period.

News organisations, including Bloomberg, are reporting cancelled or postponed meetings by civil servants with industry, as Whitehall is swamped by efforts to respond to COVID-19.

A group of MEPs has said that extending the transition period is “the only responsible thing to do” to allow time after the virus has been suppressed to negotiate a trade deal between the UK and the EU’s bloc of 27 countries.

The Sunday Times yesterday reported that UK ministers and their advisors were “coming round” to the idea that a delay needs to be sought.

 ‘Enshrined in law’

Johnson, who is currently being hospitalised for the virus, has so far refused to call for an extension, saying the transition deadline of 31 December 2020 is enshrined in the UK’s EU withdrawal legislation.

New Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said at the weekend it had been “a mistake” for the government to have included a precise date for the transition period’s end into the withdrawal legislation.

‘Stay prepared’

Despite a growing clamour for delay, some trade associations are warning that businesses need to keep up preparations for the transition period – whereby the UK is still bound by EU rules and remains part of the EU Customs Union and Single Market – regardless of whether it is delayed or not.

Marco Forgione, director general of the IOE&IT, said:

“Whether the transition period ends on 31 December 2020 or later in 2021, the imperative for UK businesses remains to be prepared for actual exit from the EU.

“Whatever the government’s decision on the timing around the transition period, the Institute of Export & International Trade is ready and prepared to help.”