The Prime Minister has wisely avoided the word Transition in her statements on Brexit. If you envisage a Transition Agreement and a period of Transition, you need first to have an overall Future Relationship Agreement so you know what you are in transition to. It is not inherently easier to negotiate a Transition Agreement than a full Agreement. The sooner you get to an Agreement on our Future Relationship the sooner you start implementation. There might need to be interim arrangements if parts of the Agreement we make on departure require a bit more time to bring in. We can judge that when we have an Agreement.
The technical matters that some worry about concerning customs systems, rules of origin, lorry inspection and the rest can all be solved by a UK/EU customs Agreement, which could be sorted out in the next 19 months before we leave if the EU wanted to. The EU has customs agreements with many non EU countries. Alternatively we will leave with no agreement, operate under World Trade rules, and both sides will presumably do what they need to do to make sure their respective borders work, as it is in their interests to do so. German car exporters, French farmers and winemakers, Dutch market gardeners and the rest would not take kindly to the EU deliberately messing up the borders to impede trade. The EU would find itself on the wrong end of political pressures and legal claims if it tried that. The UK obviously will wish to run her borders efficiently and effectively, allowing easy despatch of goods and free access for imports subject to the normal checks to limit smuggling, illicit goods and fraudulent or faked products. We already run efficient borders for tariff based trade with non EU countries so we know how to do it, and could add EU countries to that group if we have to.
Negotiators should concentrate on the simple basic question. Does the EU want to accept the UK’s generous offer of a free trade agreement based on our current tariff free trade with relatively few barriers, or not? If it does it should say Yes and get on with creating the registerable Free Trade Agreement with the WTO in time for our exit. If the answer is a perverse No, then we can get on with planning for the WTO option.
I am constantly told by EU lovers that the UK has to be punished to show it is not a good idea to leave the EU. I find this a bizarre attitude. If the EU is as good as they usually claim, leaving is not going to be popular with other countries. The EU has a Treaty requirement to get on well with neighbouring states and promote good trade and other relations. I have a higher opinion of the other countries than some for Remain, and think as intelligent people they will want to obey their Treaty and keep free trade. If my optimism is misplaced, trading with them under WTO rules will be fine. The EU does not have the power or the legal right to stop people on the continent buying and selling goods and services across the Channel. The EU does in my view have too much power over us, but it does not have the means to impose a stop on trade.