Timeframes and deadlines for agreement to be reached within 11 days before end of transition period.
After nine months of talks, and with just 11 days to go before the end of the transition period when the UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union, there is still no sign of a post-Brexit trade and security deal.
Is there a deadline for an agreement?
There is a deadline to the extent that the transition period ends at 11pm Greenwich mean time on 31 December. But there have been many others along the way – all of which have come and gone. The latest is the European parliament’s. All the leaders of the political parties, except the Greens who said it was already too late, said they would need agreement on a deal by midnight central European time today for them to be able to hold a consent vote before the end of the year. An extraordinary session of the parliament would be staged on 28 December. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, had wanted to meet the MEPs’ target. But with the EU and UK negotiators at loggerheads over fishing rights, his efforts appear to have been in vain.
Does this mean it is no deal?
No. There is no legal requirement in the treaties for the European parliament to hold a consent vote. The necessary steps in Brussels are: the commission proposes “provisional application” of a deal on 1 January; the proposal and the draft treaty are translated into the EU languages, although maybe not all 24 of them; the commission proposal is adopted by the 27 European commissioners in Ursula von der Leyen’s team; the Council of the European Union – representing the member states – signs the deal. In the meantime, the EU capitals will want to take a hard look at the legal text. The process could take up to a week. The deal would then be provisionally applied on 1 January. The European parliament could give its consent in a vote later in January.
By when does there need to be agreement then?
Downing Street has briefed that the deadline is now Christmas. The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Sunday that this is the European commission’s deadline. That would make sense given the week that is likely required for provisional application. But there is an UK ratification process to bear in mind as well. In practice, it would likely need 48 hours notice for the House of Commons to be recalled and MPs will want to have their own look at what has been agreed.
Christmas is the deadline then, no wiggle room?
Not quite. A deal could feasibly be struck on 31 December. There would not be sufficient time for ratification of the agreement by 1 January 2021. But you could have a short no-deal period, with contingency measures in place to avoid the worst, before both sides do the formal work that is necessary for the new trade and security arrangements to come into force.