The U.K. reiterated Friday, two weeks before the expiration of a deadline upon which it had to make its intentions clear, that it would not seek an extension of the current “extension period” that binds the country to the European Union until Dec. 31.
“We have informed the EU today that we will not extend the transition period,” U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove tweeted. “The moment for extension has now passed.”
The government separately said that it would delay implementing full-scale border controls for goods entering Great Britain from Europe, originally scheduled to start Jan. 1, until July. Controls will instead be gradually introduced in three phases — in January, April and July — to take into account the pressures on businesses triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.K.’s final decision not to request an extension is in line with the consistent position of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who had Parliament translate his electoral promise into law last year after the December general election.
The U.K. legally left the EU on Jan. 31 but has been since then in a “transition period” with the same rights and obligations of any member state — save for a presence in institutions where decisions are being made.
Before Gove’s announcement, the Welsh and Scottish first ministers had written to Johnson demanding an extension, which the European Union has said it is open to.
The EU and U.K. are currently negotiating a treaty on their future relationship, with talks seemingly at a dead end. Major disagreements persist on future access to the U.K.’s fishing waters and on the “level playing field” requested by EU negotiators in areas such as state aid, competition law, and labor and environmental regulations.
The U.K. separately began negotiating a free-trade agreement with the U.S. on May 5.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier wrote in May to indicate that the European Union was open to extending negotiations, but said on Twitter on Friday that the commission “took note of U.K.’s decision not to extend.”
“To give every chance to the negotiations, we agreed to intensify talks in the next weeks and months,” he added.
Friday’s announcement increases the likelihood of the transition period ending with a “no-deal Brexit,” meaning an exit from the European Union without an agreement in place.
“By ruling out any extension decision now, the U.K. is basically saying that transition ends this year,” Michael Dougan, professor of European law at the University of Liverpool, told MarketWatch.
“The chances of reaching a meaningful deal, ready to enter into force by 1 January 2021, appear very slim, i.e. given the fundamental differences between the EU and U.K. positions and bearing in mind the unprecedented nature of the task at hand as well as the time scale available,” he said.
Johnson is expected to meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and other EU leaders on Monday to discuss the disagreements and try to jump-start Brexit talks.