From an ecommerce perspective, one thing that requires clarity is how long the Brexit EU transition period will last. It’s a question that’s critical to understanding how online merchants will be able to operate once the UK has formally and completely left the trading bloc.
What do we know already with utter certainty? For starters, the UK absolutely remains a member of the European Union until the 29th of March 2019. That date will be two years after the UK government triggered Article 50 with the all-important letter. But it seems likely now that there will be a transition period that will help both parties negotiate and transition to an equitable settlement.
Article 50 says that there are two years from declaration to divorce. And, because obviously no country has ever left the European Union ever over the years, it’s never been clear how long leaving takes. The EU has proposed that the 31st of December 2020 is a more realistic final end of UK’s membership of the EU.
The talking and negotiations will take time. Now the British Government has suggested that a longer period of transition, to sort everything out, could be preferable but it hasn’t suggested how long that period might last. That suggestion has attracted the ire of UK Conservative backbench MPs who think Brexit means Brexit and that it must happen as quickly as possible.
A leaked UK government document is more pragmatic:
The UK believes the period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future relationship. The UK agrees this points to a period of around two years, but wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date.
– UK Government draft paper
When it comes to cross-border ecommerce trade within the EU, it can be said with easy certainty that the maintenance of the status quo has immediate merit. No tariffs. Free movement of goods. National cooperation. And there is no guarantee that we’ll see anything similar after Brexit. But, in the absence of certainty of the new arrangements, keeping the current free trade arrangements open for as long as possible seems like the most sensible option.
We’ll keep you informed as the Brexit deal unfolds. It’s going to be a long ride.