Coronavirus (COVID-19): the case for extending the Brexit transition period

This paper sets out why it is vital, if we are to ensure the most rapid recovery possible from the COVID-19 crisis, that the UK Government immediately seeks an extension to the Brexit transition period (scheduled to finish on 31 December 2020) for two years.


This document is about why an extension to the Brexit transition period is vital to our economic recovery from Coronavirus (COVID-19).

In the referendum on membership of the European Union in June 2016 people in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain.

The Scottish Government's position is well known: we have always vehemently opposed Brexit and see Scotland's future as an independent country and an EU member state. That has not changed.

That goal of becoming a full, equal member of the EU, committed to the founding values of human dignity, freedom, democracy and equality is at the heart of the Scottish Government's ambition for Scotland.

However, although there will be differences of opinion on Brexit and Scottish independence, I believe there is an immediate step that must be taken, given the unprecedented Coronavirus crisis, that can command widespread consensus.

Although the UK has left the European Union, it is still able to benefit from most aspects of EU membership because it is in a "transition period" during which pre- Brexit rights and obligations apply in almost all areas.

This transition period is due to finish on December 31, but it can be extended for up to a further two years as long as that is agreed by the end of June. After that date, it will not be possible to extend under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement - and no other plausible route to an extension has been put forward. We must therefore work on the basis that the end-June deadline for an extension is real. Without an extension, the UK would, on 1 January 2021, have to operate in an entirely new relationship with the EU.

Given the huge economic hit caused by coronavirus it would be an act of extraordinary recklessness for the UK Government to refuse to seek an extension.

That's because the default plan is to leave in around seven months' time with either only a very basic deal with the EU or no deal at all.

That would mean Scotland, and the UK as a whole, being subjected to an entirely unnecessary second economic and social shock on top of the COVID-19 crisis. More jobs would be lost, living standards would be hit and essential cooperation would be damaged. For many businesses which manage to survive the coronavirus crisis, this second, Brexit, shock would hit them at their weakest, and be the final straw to put them out of business. Each business lost is a permanent reduction in Scotland's productive capacity, and thus in our long-term prospects for inclusive, sustainable growth.

Whatever one's opinion, in principle, of the merits of Brexit, that approach makes no sense. I believe there is a growing common-sense coalition to press for an extension to avoid such a disastrous outcome.

In this paper the Scottish Government sets out the evidence to back up the arguments for an extension to the transition and I look forward to working with others to put forward the case during this unprecedented time.

Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs

Michael Russell
Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs


Email: EUStrategy&

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