Post-Brexit EU trade deal will always be at mercy of member states – UK ambassador
Britain’s only hope of a trade deal with the European Union after Brexit will be a free trade agreement which could ultimately be rejected by other member states, a senior diplomat has reportedly told the government privately.
The UK’s ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, also warned ministers that a post-Brexit trade deal with the bloc could take 10 years to negotiate, according to the BBC.
Even after negotiations, the agreement could still fail to be ratified by all the bloc’s member states, leaving the UK in limbo.
Downing Street dismissed the comments, saying the diplomat was relaying other EU members’ views, rather than his own or that of the British government.
“It is wrong to suggest this was advice from our ambassador to the EU. Like all ambassadors, part of his role is to report the views of others,” a spokesman said.
Leave campaigner and former minister Dominic Raab told BBC Radio 4 this was the “worst case scenario.”
But Remain-supporting ex-deputy PM and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg said the ambassador “knows what he is talking about.”
Over the past year, experts have come up with a variety of estimations as to how long Brexit will actually take.
Two (and a bit) years
If Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50 at the end of March next year, as she has pledged, Britain will leave the EU in the spring of 2019.
This means the British government has two years to negotiate its exit from the EU and a mutually beneficial trade deal with the bloc.
There is, however, good reason to be sceptical of events running according to schedule. If the government loses an upcoming Supreme Court decision on whether it can trigger Article 50 without parliamentary consent, then MPs will be given the right to debate and vote on Brexit before it happens.
Given the largely pro-EU leaning of the House of Commons, there could be attempts to derail the process altogether.
Five to ten years
Former Labour minister and EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson predicts it will take between five and ten years to negotiate a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal.
The Guardian quotes Mandelson as having told the Commons business committee this morning this was a “realistic” estimate.
Although Brexit itself could be negotiated more quickly, “the separate negotiation on what trade relationship replaces our membership of the EU will be harder and longer and will require the approval of all member states and their parliaments.”
Prior to the June referendum on EU membership, EC President Donald Tusk warned it could take up to seven years to leave the EU in the event of a Brexit.
Speaking to the German daily newspaper Bild, Tusk said that although contractual ties could be dissolved in two years, getting every country to approve the agreement could take much longer.
“Every family knows: Divorce is traumatic for all,” he added.
Ten years or more
Months before Sir Ivan Rogers embarrassed Downing Street with his gloomy outlook on post-Brexit UK-EU trade negotiations, the World Trade Organization (WTO) made an even more pessimistic prediction.
WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo told an audience at the World Trade Symposium in London it could take the UK decades to leave the bloc successfully.
Because no country has ever left the EU before, negotiations could drag on for more than 10 years, he said.