27 September 2023

UNITED KINGDOM: Former PS Heads urge Brexit extension

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A group of former United Kingdom Public Service chiefs have urged the UK Government to consider extending the transition period for exiting the European Union (EU) in light of the Coronavirus crisis.

The retired officials include Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell (pictured), Head of the Public Service, Lord Kerslake, and Permanent Secretary of the Department for Exiting the European Union, Philip Rycroft.

The transition period is set to expire on 31 December, at which point Britain will either leave the trading bloc without a trade deal or move to a new negotiated arrangement.

The Government has until July to request an extension from the EU.

However, despite the distractions of the pandemic, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has insisted that it is possible to negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement by the current deadline.

An official from his office in Downing Street said at a recent briefing that the Government “will not ask to extend, and if the EU asks, we will say no”.

Mr Rycroft said it was simple common sense to ask for an extension of the transition period when the huge economic uncertainties caused by the Coronavirus pandemic were factored in.

Lord Kerslake said the timetable for delivering a trade deal was already extremely ambitious.

“The lost time as a consequence of COVID-19 has moved this from being ambitious to almost impossible,” Lord Kerslake said.

Lord O’Donnell said there had clearly been much less time for negotiation than could ever have been anticipated, arguing that “more time could lead to a better outcome for both sides”.

A poll carried out in late March found that two-thirds of Britons — and almost half of those who voted to leave the EU in the 2015 referendum — wanted an extension so the Government could “focus 100 per cent of its energy on dealing with Coronavirus for the rest of the year”.

However, the UK’s former Permanent Representative to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers said the Government was unlikely to change its stance.

“In reality, it is forcing firms which are facing an existential crisis over COVID-19 right now — and for the next several months — to prepare simultaneously for a no-deal exit at year end,” Sir Ivan said.

London, 25 April, 2020

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