UK and EU officials put pen to paper on a possible one-off transition extension that could see Britain remain under Brussels’ rules and regulations until December 2022 as they draw the final line under the controversial withdrawal agreement. The potential end-date was agreed after a crunch meeting between Theresa May and chief eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Wednesday night. Under the new terms, Britain will pay for the transition on a pro-rata basis despite previous demands by Brussels that the UK pay for annual access even if remaining for a matter of months – the move will save billions of pounds in potential financial contributions to Brussels under new terms agreed by negotiators.
The original publication of Article 132 stated there could be a one-off transition phase if jointly agreed by the EU and UK as one of the potential options to avoid the Irish backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border on Ireland.
Negotiators would use the extra time to reach a deal on a trading arrangement that would supersede the need for the backstop.
Previously the date was left blank as “December 31 20XX” but has now been entirely scrapped for a new format.
The new version reads: “The Joint Committee may, before 1 July 2020, adopt a single decision extending the transition period for up to one or two years.”
If the Prime Minister opts to use the full two years available for an extended transition, Britain will remain under EU rule after the next general election, which is scheduled for May 5 2022.
This would also mean Britain will remain attached to the bloc for a total of six years after Britons voted to leave in the historic EU referendum in June 2016.
It will cost Britain an estimated £10-15bn a year to extend the transition period but the exact figure will now be paid on a pro-rata basis.
Originally, Brussels had demanded that Britain hand over enough cash for a 12-month period even if its stay under the EU’s rules lasted a matter of months.
The finalisation of Article 132 only leaves Gibraltar and fisheries to be concluded in the political declaration, the blueprint of the UK and EU’s future trade and security partnership.
An EU Commission spokesman said eurocrats’ work on the negotiations was now “done” and the “ball is in the Member States’ courts” for the final stretch.
He said: “I can confirm that the question of Gibraltar and the issue of fisheries are issues that still need to be dealt with.
“The College clearly approves a piece of work that reflects not the final agreement but an agreement reached at technical level.
“Work is continuing. It’s important that there is a moment to assess where we are once this ongoing work and the ongoing negotiations crystallise or not.
“On the basis of this the PM will come again to see where we are. It’s nothing conspiratorial, it makes perfect sense.”
Mrs May and Mr Juncker will meet on Saturday evening before the summit but nothing “apocalyptical” is expected to happen, according to the Commission spokesman.