The European Union is set to prioritise issues like payments it is owed and border controls over negotiating a “final deal” with the UK when Brexit talks get underway.
Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s top Brexit negotiator, told Sky news that negotiations with Theresa May’s government will be split into three parts, the final part being a long term UK-EU trade relationship.
Before then, though, the 28-nation bloc intends to use the first two parts to address “pending” issues like payments the UK must hand over before divorcing from the EU, border issues, and the European Single Market.
This is bad news for May’s government, whose chief Brexit ministers David Davis and Boris Johnson have been in Europe this week to discuss Brexit with high profile EU parliamentarians like Guy Verhofstadt and Michel Weber.
Davis MP, who heads the Department for Exiting the European Union, told European leaders that he wanted the final post-Brexit deal to be finalised earlier in the negotiation process when he spoke to his European counterparts.
Sky adds that sources within the EU believe talks relating to the “final deal” — which will establish Britain’s long-term relationship with the EU once Brexit is complete — won’t begin until at least October 2018, just six months before Britain officially leaves, assuming May fulfils her pledge to trigger Article 50 in March next year.
This means that Britain’s efforts to reach a final deal with the EU will likely stretch beyond the 2-year period allowed by the Article 50 notification. The EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) took over seven years to complete and experts predict a UK-EU deal could take at least five years to finalise.
This will put pressure on May to arrange a transitional deal with the EU, which would put the foundations in place for a period of stability between Article 50 expiring and Britain’s long-term trade relationship with the EU coming into effect. The prime minister hinted at a transitional arrangement earlier this week when she told business leaders that she wanted British business to avoid a “cliff-edge” scenario.
Interestingly, Buzzfeed’s Alberto Nardelli reports that a transitional deal could see May’s government continue to accept the free movement of EU citizens to the UK until a final deal is reached, a commitment that would inevitably cause outrage among pro-Leave MPs, many of whom are growing frustrated by the progress government has made.
Davis and Johnson have both suggested that Britain wants to retain its single market membership as part of the long-term exit deal. This is unlikely as allowing Britain to retain its membership and restrict inward migration from the 28-nation bloc would require the Union to unravel its “four freedoms,” something EU leaders have repeatedly ruled out.
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