- Senior figures within the European Union believe a trade deal will not be agreed with the UK before Brexit happens.
- “I have never seen a deal negotiated and signed that quickly,” claims former trade official.
- David Davis insists a new UK-EU free trade deal can be negotiated before Brexit day.
LONDON — Senior figures within the European Union seriously doubt whether a trade deal can be struck with the UK before Brexit.
The EU27 think that a future partnership agreement will not be signed before March 2019, when the UK leaves, despite Theresa May and David Davis’ insistence that it will all be wrapped up before Brexit, according to reports on Friday.
An EU diplomat closely involved in Brexit negotiations told Politico that it is “difficult to imagine that we can reach an agreement before [the U.K.’s exit in] 2019.”
Roderick Abbott, a former deputy director-general at the World Trade Organisation and trade official in the UK and EU, said: “I have never seen a deal negotiated and signed that quickly.”
On Wednesday, Davis said he believes the free trade deal between Britain and the EU can be agreed within the next 12 months of Brexit talks.
Asked by Hilary Benn, chair of the Committee on Exiting the European Union, whether he thinks a free trade agreement can be agreed within 12 months, the Brexit secretary said: “Yes. The arguments against this tend to be based on other free trade agreements which are very different from ours.
“We start with identical regulatory structures. We start with an existing 600 billion euro trade exchange and the arrangements that go with that. We aim to a comprehensive free trade agreement which would be a tariff-free.”
However, Abbott said “it would take at least two years” for a deal to be arranged, which would mean that talks would have to continue during a possible transition period.
On Thursday Stefaan De Rynck, an advisor to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he believes a transition deal can be “wrapped up very quickly” once “sufficient progress” is made on phase one of talks.
He said: “The possible transition could… be wrapped up very quickly. But that all depends on firstly reaching sufficient progress and secondly any additional guidelines that the European Council will give.”
A senior EU diplomat told Politico that Britain should “not take for granted that in December we move to phase 2.”
The European Council will meet in December to decide whether “sufficient progress” has been made in the first phase of Brexit talks to allow them to advance onto discussions of transition and a future relationship.
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