22nd Mar 2018

May seeks EU grace period

  • May outlined her Brexit strategy in the the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence (Photo: Number 10/Flickr)

Nothing much should change in UK-EU relations for "around two years" after Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019, British prime minister Theresa May has said.

She proposed the transition phase while in Florence, Italy, on Friday (22 September), but her eagerly awaited Brexit speech was short on many of the details that are being sought after in Brussels.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The two-year "implementation period" was needed, May said, to "prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin that future [UK-EU] partnership".

She said businesses, public services, and citizens would have to get ready for the changes, such as a new registration system for EU citizens.

During this period, the EU and the UK should be able to access each other's markets on current terms, May added.

In his first reaction to the speech, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator said that if the EU-27 agreed to a transitional period, then the existing EU "regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures [would] apply" until 2021.

Barnier has said before that he would not agree to a transitional deal until first agreeing the terms of the UK's exit.

The exit deal is to cover three main issues: the rights of citizens, the Irish border, and the size of the UK's financial settlement.

To complicate matters further, the exit deal must be agreed within a year from now to allow time for ratification.

Honour commitments

In what could be a significant concession, May said Britain would "honour [financial] commitments we have made during the period of our membership".

"I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave," she said.

She did not say how the UK settlement should be calculated or give a number, however.

The UK acknowledged during the summer that it needed to pay for previous financial commitments made while being an EU member, among EU-27 concern that Brexit would blow a hole in the current seven-year EU budget, which runs out in 2020.

May also hinted in her speech that the UK was open to continue financial contributions to specific post-Brexit programmes, such as those that promoted science, education, and security.

Barnier said the EU was ready to discuss the "concrete implications of [May's] pledge", but added that details remained to be worked out.

Besides the EU budget, member states pay into several EU-related funds and financial vehicles on common issues, such as the migration crisis and overseas aid.

Take into account ECJ

On another sore point, EU citizens' rights, May confirmed that these would be guaranteed in UK law.

She also said UK courts would be able to take into account rulings of the European Court of Justice to ensure "consistent interpretation".

Barnier said citizens rights had to be safeguarded in the same way in the UK and in the EU.

That means maintaining the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK, which May's party abhors.

May also underlined the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and the common travel area between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But Barnier took her to task for lack of detail on the issues.

"Today's speech does not clarify how the UK intends to honour its special responsibility for the consequences of its withdrawal for Ireland," he said.

On the long-term relationship, May said she wanted a free trade deal with the EU that was more ambitious than the EU's agreement with Canada, but ruled out being bound by EU law in return fr access to the single market on the model of Norway.

She did not specify further.

"Let us be creative as well as practical in designing an ambitious economic partnership which respects the freedoms and principles of the EU, and the wishes of the British people," she said.

She added that she wanted a new security pact with the EU that went even deeper than current defence ties.

"I believe it is vital that we work together to design new, dynamic arrangements that go beyond the existing arrangements that the EU has in this area," she said. The UK "is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe's security," May said.

Worries remain

EU officials were unimpressed by her speech and it remained to be seen whether if it was enough to unlock negotiations that have stalled after three rounds of talks.

"We look forward to the United Kingdom's negotiators explaining the concrete implications of prime minister Theresa May's speech," Barnier said in his statement.

Manfred Weber, the head of the centre-right EPP group, tweeted that May's speech lacked specifics.

Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney welcomed the "additional clarity", but said there were still many outstanding issues.

"The key thing now is that today's comments by Prime Minister May are translated into deliverables across the negotiating table in Brussels," he said.

Poland's Europe minister Konrad Szymanski said there could be no transitional agreement without agreeing on the three key issues in the divorce talks.

"We can agree to talk about transitional period in relation between the EU and the UK only if that could lead to complete compliance with the UK's commitments towards the EU," he said.

A new round of Brexit talks is to begin on Monday.

Barnier: UK risks undermining trust in Brexit talks

A day before UK PM Theresa May sets out her Brexit strategy in Florence, top EU negotiator Michel Barnier told lawmakers in Rome: there can be no transitional deal for the UK without a withdrawal agreement.

EU hopes for clarity on Brexit payments

May to give first major speech on Brexit since notifying EU that the UK was leaving. Negotiations have stalled, but she could revive them with a financial offer.

Johnson challenges May on hard Brexit

In yet an another attempt at becoming Tory leader, the UK foreign secretary argues for a hard Brexit, while PM Theresa May is expected to set out her strategy, including a financial settlement with the EU, on Friday.

UK parliament passes Brexit bill

The EU Withdrawal Bill passed by 326 votes to 290 in the House of Commons, but Conservative MPs warned that controversial plans for the government to overturn EU laws by executive order would have to be scrapped.

EU puts May under pressure over Brexit and 'Boris'

MEPs and Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker insist that "speeches are not enough" and say that the UK prime minister's political weakness at home prevents progress in negotiations.


No precedents for post-Brexit Irish border

Glib comparisons with the US-Canada border, or municipal boundaries within London, do not stand up to scrutiny - or the reality of an internal Irish border with 275 crossing points in a land beset by 30 years of armed conflict.

News in Brief

  1. EU to have 'immediate' trade talks with Trump
  2. Separatist activist renounces Catalonia leadership candidacy
  3. EU puts conditions on Bayer-Monsanto merger
  4. Hard Brexit would hit poorer Irish households hardest
  5. Finland hosts secretive North Korean talks
  6. EU to unveil 3% tax on digital giants
  7. German elected S&D leader in European Parliament
  8. Germany: nearly €350m child benefit goes abroad

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  2. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  3. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  4. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  5. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  6. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions
  7. EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints
  8. Five east European states prevent new CAP consensus

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections