A former Danish minister who has first-hand experience of negotiating a country’s exit from the European Union has warned that a Brexit is an “enormous” challenge will take “much longer” than three years.
Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, Denmark’s former foreign minister handled Greenland’s departure from the EU in the 1980s, and told Bloomberg that any notion the process of Britain leaving the EU will be straightforward is illusory and far off the mark.
“Negotiating Greenland’s exit was a fairly simple task that resulted in a relatively simple and easy to understand protocol,” Ellemann-Jensen told Bloomberg. “That took three years. Britain will take much longer. It’s impossible to say how long.”
Even with a tiny population of around 56,000, it still took Greenland three years to officially complete its withdrawal from the EU in 1982. Ellemann-Jensen led the negotiations and had to do “a lot of waiting”, he said.
Of course, the UK and Greenland are two very different cases. But what Ellemann-Jensen’s experience helps us realise is how much longer and more complex a Brexit will likely be compared to Greenland’s departure.
As legal expert David Allen Green wrote for the Evening Standard earlier this week, the UK’s ties with the EU are so extensive that they will take “at least a political generation to untangle.” Greenland was nowhere near as intertwined with the union as the UK is now. The task of delivering a Brexit is much trickier than Gr-exit ever was.
“Basically, the British need to take time to understand what an enormous task they took upon themselves,” Ellemann-Jensen added. “Asking for a Brexit and expecting it to be clear-cut simply can’t happen.”
Conservative minister David Davis, who is heading the governmental department charged with delivering a Brexit, said earlier this summer that Article 50 should be triggered as early as January. This would mean Britain would officially leave the 28-nation bloc in early 2019.
However, with each day that passes, it is becoming clearer that the task facing Theresa May’s government is massive and unimaginably complex. Business Insider reported yesterday how Norway is threatening to block the UK from gaining access to the single market — a major aspect of the Brexit May has vowed to deliver.
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