Brexit delay will squeeze transition period negotiations

Activists outside the EU council headquarters

When Theresa May wrote to Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, this week asking for a short extension to article 50 to 30 June, she will have known the request was likely to be rejected. But she at least knew she could avoid mass resignations from her cabinet.

The prime minister had vainly sought a similar delay, albeit without committing to holding European elections, at the last summit on 21 March, with the agreement of cabinet. She could be confident enough about the consequences at home of tabling such a request again.

But with the EU now appearing likely to reject her plea and deliver an extension of up to a year, ending either on 31 December or at the end of March 2020, the consequences are far from obvious this time – both domestically, given the potential shock in her party, and with regard to the EU-UK relationship and future trade negotiations.

One such wrinkle is the 21-month transition period – and the unfortunate fact that the extra period of membership will eat into those months thought vital to negotiating a comprehensive, all-singing, free trade deal that could both deliver frictionless trade and solve the problem of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Article 126 of the withdrawal agreement lays out a clear end date for the transition, a period of time in which the UK effectively remains a member of the EU but without representation…

UK removes words ‘European Union’ from British passports

British passport

The UK government has started issuing British passports without the words “European Union” even though the UK remains a full member of the bloc. It removed the two words from passport covers issued this week on the working assumption that Brexit day would have been 29 March.

But the move has angered those applying for new passports who were hoping to hold on to an emblem of EU membership.

Susan Hindle Barone, who was one of the first to receive the new-look passports, said: “I was shocked because we haven’t left the EU yet. I assumed we would get the same old passport. It’s not so much about that but it’s the first tangible sign of us leaving the EU.“

Susan Hindle Barone (@SpinHBarone)

TRULY APPALLED. Picked up my new passport today – my old one expires in the next couple of months. See below: Spot the difference! pic.twitter.com/R7BW9lk6I5

April 5, 2019

In response to a tweet from Barone, Catherine Sutherland said: “I don’t understand how the Home Office can do this while still in the EU though.”

The Home Office issued a statement

Brexit extension could be until 31 March 2020, EU documents reveal

Theresa May leaves after a press briefing at the end of an article 50 session at the European council in Brussels on 21 March

The EU has pencilled in April Fools’ Day 2020 as a leading option for Britain’s first day outside the bloc, should the UK government ask Brussels for a lengthy extension of article 50 in three weeks’ time, it can be revealed.

The date was to be offered at the leaders’ summit last week if Theresa May had followed through on her promise to request a short extension in the event of passing her Brexit deal, and a longer one should it be rejected again by the House of Commons.

Such was the disapproval of her cabinet, the prime minister only sought a short delay until 30 June in her formal letter. She was subsequently given an unconditional extension until 12 April, or a longer one to 22 May in the unlikely event of the withdrawal agreement being ratified this week.

Without having received a request from Downing Street for a prolonged extension, the EU’s leaders instead left open the offer of a lengthy delay should there be a new political process or event before 12 April, such as a general election or second referendum, but they did not stipulate its potential length.

A one-year extension, ending on 31 March 2020, was, however, written into internal EU papers before the summit as an offer that could be made to May should she formally seek a longer extension, sources said. It will likely remain an option if May comes back to Brussels having failed to ratify her deal.

Such a UK departure date would ensure the British government would not have any…

What do voters make of Brexit now?

Union Jack and EU flags at Westminster

Almost three years ago the UK voted in favour of leaving the EU.

Yet the original departure date of 29 March has been delayed and the government is searching for a way forward.

So, what do the majority of the UK’s voters now think about Brexit?

How well have talks been handled?

Theresa May argues that her deal is the best way of fulfilling the instruction to leave given by voters in the EU referendum.

Trouble is, voters themselves – including not least those who voted Leave – have become deeply critical of how the UK government has handled Brexit negotiations. This is suggested in data from surveys conducted by NatCen Social Research up to 17 February of this year.

Chart showing opinion on how well the UK government has handled talks
Two years ago, those who voted Leave were inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt.

However, as many as 80% of Leave voters now say that it has handled Brexit negotiations badly. That figure is almost as high as it is among Remain voters (85%), who had previously been more critical of the government’s approach.

Remarkably, Leave voters are now just as critical of the UK government’s role as they are of the EU’s: 79% of Leave supporters say the EU has handled Brexit badly.

Will the UK get a good deal?

Meanwhile, the longer negotiations have continued, the more pessimistic voters have become about how good a deal the UK will secure.

Two years ago, there were almost as many who thought that the UK would obtain a good deal (33%) as thought it would find itself with a bad one (37%).

However, that mood soon changed and by last summer as many as 57% reckoned the UK would emerge with a bad deal.

Now that the first phase of the Brexit negotiations has been concluded – though, as yet at least, not approved by MPs – the proportion who think the UK is heading for a bad deal is, at 63%, even higher.

Chart showing opinion on whether the UK will get a good deal or a bad deal
Here too, Remain and Leave voters are now largely in agreement. This is despite Leave voters initially being much more positive.

As many as 66% of Leave supporters now believe that…

Brussels confirms return of border checks under no-deal Brexit

The European commission said its Brexit no-deal plans “cannot replicate the benefits of being an EU member”.

British travellers will get a stamp in their passport every time they enter and leave the European Union in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European commission has confirmed.

The announcement on border checks was revealed days after the British government secured a short extension that shifts the Brexit deadline to 12 April.

“The risk of a no-deal scenario is becoming increasingly likely,” an EU official said. The EU’s Brexit no-deal plans “cannot replicate the benefits of being an EU member” and were not “mini-deals or a negotiated no deal”, but unilateral measures to avoid disruption for the EU side, the official said.

In an information notice, the commission confirmed that in the event of a no-deal UK nationals would have the right to visa-free travel for short stays in the EU (90 days in any 180-day period), if the UK grants the same arrangement to citizens of all EU member states. “Your passport will be stamped both when you enter the EU and when you leave it, so that this period of 90 days, which is visa-free, can be calculated.”

British travellers would also lose access to the EU lane at border crossings, meaning longer queues.

In another return to the past, British travellers may be asked by border guards to provide information on the purpose of their visit and means of subsistence during their stay. Luggage would be subject to customs checks.

No deal would also mean the return of duty-free and the right of British travellers to claim a refund of VAT paid on goods during their stay in the EU, provided they have the right documents.

The…

More than 4 million sign Brexit petition to revoke article 50

The petition to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.

An online petition calling for the UK government to revoke article 50 and remain in the EU has reached more than 4m signatures, becoming the most popular to be submitted to the Parliament website.

The petition, which was started in late February by “frustrated remainer” Margaret Georgiadou, has gained momentum very quickly, and has now reached just over 4m supporters, adding 2.5m signatures in less than 24 hours.

It gathered momentum shortly after the prime minister appealed to the British people to back her in her standoff with MPs from all parties. The number of signatures continued to rise on Saturday, with hundreds of thousands of people expected to gather in central London to march for…

After A Chaotic Week In Brexit Politics, Here’s What You Need To Know

Brexit supporters and opponents shout at each other outside Parliament in London on Thursday, the day that British lawmakers voted to delay Brexit.

Brexit has convulsed the United Kingdom like no other political event in decades, but it can be hard to follow the day-to-day machinations. At the end of a chaotic week, here’s what to know.

How different are things now for the U.K. than they were on Monday?

Considerably. It is now clear that after two years of negotiating a Brexit withdrawal arrangement with the European Union, the United Kingdom is highly unlikely to leave on the planned exit date, March 29. Next week, Prime Minister Theresa May is almost certain to ask for an extension. How much time she requests will depend on whether she can get her deal through Parliament early next week.

How likely is it that the EU will approve an extension?

Likely. All 27 remaining EU countries must agree, and there are genuine divisions, but the EU is expected to say yes. That’s because it’s not seen in anyone’s interest — except some hard-core “Brexiteers” in Britain’s Parliament — for the United Kingdom to crash out of what is effectively the world’s second-largest economy.

If the EU approves an extension now, will the U.K. call on it later to approve more extensions?

That’s a major EU concern. It is already exasperated with the chaos in Britain’s Parliament. Officials in Brussels have made it clear they want either a short delay — or a very long one. They don’t want rolling cliff-edges.

May has outlined a plan. She wants to bring back her zombie-like Brexit deal — which Parliament has already twice voted down by staggering margins — for another vote before a meeting of EU leaders on Thursday, March 21. If it passes, she will ask for an extension until June 30, which is just before a new European Parliament will be seated. If her deal fails, she will ask for a longer extension — which she has hinted could kill Brexit.

If the longer extension is granted, what will happen during that extension period?

The U.K. government and Parliament will have to figure out…

Britain urged to reject ‘backward’ US food safety standards

A chicken farm

The US should join the back of a queue for a post-Brexit trade deal if it thinks its “woefully inadequate” and “backward” animal welfare and food safety standards will be accepted in Britain, the former farming minister George Eustice has said.

Eustice, a leading Brexit supporter who resigned from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last week, said signing any deal that allowed a reduction in food standards would be a mistake, as it could “give free trade a bad name”.

His remarks are a rebuttal to Woody Johnson, the US ambassador, who last week invited the UK to drop its opposition to certain practices such as the use of hormones in beef and chlorine washes in chicken when considering a trade deal.

The issue is a contentious one within the UK government as Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has insisted food and welfare standards will be maintained, but Liam Fox, the trade secretary, has defended the safety of chlorine-washed chicken.

Writing for the Guardian, Eustice said the UK has a “sophisticated and discerning” market for food but agriculture in the US “remains quite backward in many respects”.

“Their livestock sectors often suffer from poor husbandry which leads to more prevalence of disease and a greater reliance on the use of antibiotics,” he said. “Whereas we have a ‘farm to fork’ approach to managing disease and…

Brexit: what happens the next day if there is no deal?

A man driving through France
A man driving through France Photograph: Alamy

Taking your car abroad

In a sentence You’ll have to request a green card from your insurer if driving to Europe after 29 March

Currently, a driver of a UK-registered car is allowed to drive anywhere in the EU, the EEA (European Economic Area), Switzerland and Serbia, and not have to carry a green card that proves you have insurance cover.

But if the UK leaves without a deal, all changes and drivers will be expected to carry a green card when in mainland Europe and Ireland. They are likely to be issued by an insurance company for free, but the industry is warning it could take up to a month to obtain one, so if no deal happens and you’re booked to go away with the car this Easter, you will need to act fast.

The official advice from the UK government is: “From 29 March 2019, in the event that there is no EU exit deal … drivers of UK-registered vehicles will need to carry a motor insurance green card when driving in the EU and EEA.”

Note that a green card (and they do have to be on green paper) typically lasts only 90 days, and if your insurance renewal comes up while you’re abroad, you will need one for each cover period. The card applies to the vehicle, not the driver.

Direct Line insurance says: “In the event of a no-deal Brexit, we have plans to ensure customers are provided with a green card if they drive in Europe on or after 29 March. Customers will need to contact us at least two weeks in advance of when they are due to travel.”

In Ireland, where 30,000 drivers commute across the border daily, and where shoppers from Dublin frequently head to Belfast and vice versa, the green cards issued are likely to be valid for one year. Irish insurers have prepared 400,000 green card forms in the event of no deal, and some UK insurers are now proactively sending green cards to customers in Northern Ireland.

Insurers say they are already incurring hefty costs to organise the cards and prepare their staff in call centres to handle an inevitable barrage of questions. The Association of British Insurers says it would much rather none of this was happening. “It remains the case that insurers do not want a no-deal Brexit; it would be bad for the economy and bad for our customers,” it says. “We continue to hope these arrangements are never needed and urge the government, UK parliament and EU27 to agree an orderly way forward.”

Meanwhile, if your UK-registered car sports an EU flag on its numberplate, you might want to buy a GB sticker. From 29 March, if the UK leaves without a deal, the government says: “You may need a GB sticker even if your vehicle has a europlate [displaying both the EU flag and a GB sign]. You will not need a GB sticker to drive outside the UK if you replace a europlate with a numberplate that features the GB sign without the EU flag.” PC

Driving with a UK licence when abroad

Cars wait at a departure point at the car ferry terminal in Calais, France.
Cars wait at a departure point at the car ferry terminal in Calais, France. Photograph: Michel Spingler/AP

In a sentence You will have to buy an International Driving Permit to drive in Europe, at a price of £5.50, with different ones required for France and Spain

If there is no deal with the EU then recognition of UK driving licences in the EU ends. So British drivers will have to go to the Post Office and obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), which you will need to carry with you in conjunction with your UK driving licence.

There is a curious twist to the international rules which means that if, say, you drive through France and into Spain, you’ll need two different IDPs. That’s because the 1949 IDP convention covers Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Ireland, while the 1968 IDP convention covers all other EU countries, plus Norway and Switzerland.

So at the Post Office you have to specify which permit you want, depending on which country you are visiting, or get both if driving between France and Spain or Portugal and Spain.

And just to add a little more complexity, the permit you buy for Portugal will last three years, but in Spain you’ll have to renew it every year.

The Post Office has set up a webpage dedicated to this process. But you can’t buy it online – you’ll have to head to a Post Office with your driving licence, passport and a passport-sized photograph.

As regards driving back and forth between the UK and Ireland, there has been significant confusion.

Last September the government’s official position was that an IDP would be required if driving across the Northern Ireland border. But in January this advice was withdrawn, and it now says: “If you hold a UK driving licence you should not need an IDP to drive in Ireland from 29 March as Ireland does not currently require IDPs to be held by driving licence holders from non-EU countries.”

It was also revealed this week that British citizens resident in Ireland – estimated to number about 300,000 – will be required to swap their UK driving licence for an Irish one at a fee of €55 (£48) if there is no deal on Brexit. PC

European Health Insurance Card

A doctor in her office
A doctor will see you now … or maybe not. Ehics will no longer be available in the event of no deal. Photograph: Alamy

In a sentence They will no longer be valid and buying travel insurance will become essential

For years, Brits travelling, studying and working in Europe have relied on the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) that entitled the holder to state-provided medical treatment if they fell ill or had an accident in an EU/EEA country.

Two weeks ago, the UK government issued its latest advice on healthcare when travelling abroad, warning that if the UK leaves with no deal, our Ehics will no longer be valid.

It has advised anyone travelling on or after 29 March to any of the EU countries as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, to buy travel insurance to cover healthcare “just as you would if visiting a non-EU country”.

It has said it is seeking agreements with countries on healthcare arrangements for UK nationals after Brexit day, but no such agreements are in place yet. Those studying or working temporarily abroad already won’t be able to buy travel insurance as they have already left. They will probably just have to risk it as, alternatively, they face having to buy expensive local insurance, which will run into several hundred pounds.

Ehic was never intended to cover long-term residents who had moved to another country, but many relied on it particularly if they spent only part of the year abroad, or for when they had just arrived in a new country. MB

Visas and travel

Passengers queue at check-in at Gatwick’s South Terminal building.
Passengers queue at check-in at Gatwick’s South Terminal building. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

In a sentence: Visa-free travel to Europe ends, paving the way for possible £52 90-day visas

It’s arguably the craziest prospect of all, but if the Brexit impasse is not broken, British tourists face having to apply for a visa to visit most of mainland Europe.

That was the warning from Brussels this week where reports say there is a very real prospect of UK citizens…

Chris Grayling not welcome in Calais, says port’s chairman

Chris Grayling has planned to divert sea traffic frim Calais in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, is no longer welcome in Calais, according to the port’s chairman, who has been angered by British plans to divert some sea traffic in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau reportedly accused the UK cabinet minister of behaving in a “completely disrespectful” manner on Tuesday.

“Mr Grayling came to us in November and asked us if we would be ready. We told him ‘yes’, though we did not know as much as we know today. He did not tell us that he wanted to reduce the activity [at Calais].

“It is not fair at all, it is completely disrespectful. I don’t want to see him again,” Puissesseau told the Daily Telegraph.

The UK government has awarded contracts to three firms as it seeks to bypass congestion it predicts will mount up in Calais as a result of extra customs checks, which ministers believe will need to be carried out following a no-deal…