Report: Brexit transition discussions may be harder than withdrawal talks

EU and UK flags.
EU and UK flags. Source: Scanpix

While Brexit day is this Friday, January 31, unlike most divorces which generally mean a clean break from the relationship, the one between the United Kingdom and the European Union entails a lengthy transition period, ETV current affairs show "Välisilm" reported on Monday evening.

The U.K. Treasury has unveiled a new, commemorative 50 pence coin embossed with the slogan "Peace, proseperity and friendship with all nations" (notwithstanding online conversations about the lack of an Oxford comma in the lettering-ed.), with three million already in circulation since the weekend and a reported seven million more to come through the course of the year. However, leaving the EU means a lot more than producing an aesthetically pleasing coin, the report said.

"The major changes we had to make do not affect citizens 'rights," said interior ministry EU and European affairs adviser Karin Rannu.

"The Riigikogu has altered the laws on U.K. citizens' right of residence in Estonia and, for example, driving licenses."

"However, the law on credit institutions has been adopted to mitigate future risks," Rannu added.

U.K. ambassador's comment

Britain's ambassador to Estonia Theresa Bubbear has had a busy time of it since the EU referendum result was announced, early on Jaanipäev (June 24) 2016, now over three-and-a-half years ago.

Britain's ambassador to Estonia Theresa Bubbear has had a busy time of it since the EU referendum result was announced, on the morning of Jaanipäev in Estonia (June 24) 2016, now over three-and-a-half years ago.

"It's always difficult to explain things to people when they're nervous, when they're worried, and when there is no certainty what's coming up," ambassador Bubbear told ERR's Tarmo Maiberg.

"We were helped enormously by the interior ministry here, who worked very closely with us to make sure British nationals living here would be protected, that their rights would be protected, and that they had very clear information. I've had several meetings with British nationals who live in Estonia, and those meetings got easier and easier over two or three years, as people were more and more reassured that actually everything will be ok for them here," she continued.

The withdrawal agreement, signed late last week in both Brussels and London following the Royal Assent given to the act enabling the agreement, also stipulates that the rights of U.K. citizens who have relocated to Estonia within the past year will remain the same as those who have been here longer (after five years, U.K. citizens as with others from the EU would generally receive permanent residency-ed.), the report said.

Granted, last May's European Parliamentary elections were the last U.K. citizens were permitted to vote in. However, now that the wrangling over the withdrawal agreement's terms has been resolved, a new, much more difficult chapter begins, the report said, one which has a very short time frame – i.e. by the end of this year.

"During the transitional period, everything stays the same," Rannu said.

"Free movement of [U.K.] people will remain valid until the end of the year, for both travel and residence purposes. There is no need to change any documents. In thee longer term, from next year, Brits living here will have to exchange their documents, however – namely their residence permit, if they want to travel across a Schengen border. If they want to be here in Estonia and not travel, they don't even have to do that. Documents [U.K. citizens already have] will remain valid to the ir expiry dates," Rannu continued.

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, added that with no further agreement arising during the transitional period, there would be a risk of running of a cliff edge, particularly in the sphere of trade.

"I don't think anybody would say anything other than it's a tight timetable, but you will have felt, as I have, the energy from this prime minister (Boris Johnson-ed.) the desire to keep moving," Theresa Bubbear said.

"Actually, he likes tight timescales, he likes to give people a firm date – something that will really focus everybody, that we have to do this, within this timeframe."

In accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement, the transition period can be extended one time, for a period of up to two years, but the U.K. parliament has legislated for their being no further time extension, the report said.

Should the EU take the stance of extending, the U.K. is likely to be reluctant to go along with it – at the time of writing Brussels is to make this decision on July 1, when there will be more certainty on what both parties have reached in their negotiations.

ERR News has compiled a (soon-to-be-updated) guide for U.K. citizens living in Estonia, here.

The original "Välisilm" segment, in Estonian and English, is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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