I am still not entirely sure why Florence was chosen for Theresa May’s speech last week. Is it her vision that Europe should return to a medieval landscape of competing city states? Proof that there is life after being the financial centre of the universe? Or maybe she has always been a fan of Salvatore Ferragamo and it is the only positive association she can make with “foreign”?
While there was still very little in the way of a concrete action plan for departing the European Union, it does appear that reality has intervened to a certain extent. This will be complicated, it will be unprecedented, and the idea that the UK had a crack team of super-bureaucrats just waiting to take back control and exploit the opportunities presented by Brexit has now been fully exposed as nonsense, although their leadership is even more suspect. Two years was never going to work as a time frame and the UK has asked for a transition period of an additional two years, taking us through to spring 2021.
Presumably the European Union would have to agree to this extension. Bearing in mind that Article 50 was triggered in a completely reckless fashion I don’t think this should be taken for granted. However, it is true that avoiding a cliff edge is in everyone’s best interests and no deal being better than a bad deal is just one of those things our politicians say but don’t mean.
The request for an extension does absolutely nothing for anyone looking for longer term certainty on the future of the UK and the European Union. However, it does create a window of opportunity for students who are about to go to university. With a March 2019 departure date, students starting at an EU university in September 2018 could very well be liable for non-EU fees from the second year of their studies. If the departure is delayed by two years, because the existing status quo will be maintained during this period, then fees would not increase until spring 2021 at the earliest. Students commencing a three-year degree in 2018 are likely to have graduated before any higher fee regime comes into effect. Those students looking to study in Holland can be cautiously optimistic in my opinion.
Theresa May did also mention that the two-year transition period could be shortened if quicker progress is made thus creating an additional element of uncertainty. I would not bet on such an eventuality.