- A UK-EU free trade deal will be “very different” to the existing arrangements and take “several years” to negotiate, according to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.
- Michel Barnier’s comments contradict Theresa May, who has promised to deliver a comprehensive free trade deal before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
- Barnier insists Britain must follow EU law during any transition deal.
LONDON — The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned Britain that a long-term free trade deal will take “several years” to negotiate and fall short of the comprehensive deal Theresa May has vowed to negotiate.
Michel Barnier has told European newspapers that he expects a transition deal to be agreed but said it will likely be a Canadian-style deal and will not be agreed before the end of Article 50 talks, The Guardian reports.
Barnier’s prediction is much less optimistic than that of Prime Minister May, who told the Commons on Monday that the details of a future UK-EU trade arrangement will be settled before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
May also said in her Florence speech that Britain and the EU will negotiate a free trade deal that is more advanced and wide-ranging compared to existing trade arrangements between the EU and other countries, such as Canada.
The PM specifically dismissed a Canadian-style deal, claiming “compared with what exists between Britain and the EU today would represent such a restriction on our mutual market access that it would benefit neither of our economies.”
Barnier, however, claimed that Britain’s trade relationship with the EU after Brexit will be “will be very different” from the status quo. He suggested May will struggle to secure anything close to what Britain currently enjoys as a member of the European single market.
Here’s what Barnier told European journalists:
“From the moment the UK told us that it wants out of the single market and the customs union, we will have to work on a model that is closer to the agreement signed with Canada.
“The single market is a set of rules and standards and is a shared jurisdiction. Its integrity is non-negotiable, as is the autonomy of decisions of the 27. Either you’re in or you’re out.”
Barnier also reminded May that the EU expects Britain to continue adhering to EU law during any time-limited period transition period.
“But I insist on one point: Such a period would be possible only if it is framed by the maintenance of all of the regulatory architecture and European supervision, including jurisdictional,” Barnier said. “It would maintain the economic status quo and all obligations of the UK.”
The EU-Canada free trade deal, also known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) took seven years to negotiate and was delayed at the eleventh hour by the Belgian regional parliament of Wallonia.
CETA lifted tariffs on 98% of imports between the EU and Canada but would have significant drawbacks for Britain if replicated in a UK-EU deal. For example, CETA offers little in the way of financial services, and would not prevent businesses in the City losing their financial passports to offer services across the EU.
A CETA-style deal would also result in increased border checks as there would be an absence of mutual regulatory standards on a number of products, including medicines and aircraft equipment.
Barnier suggested that talks over a new free trade deal will be much more difficult than some UK ministers have suggested. Trade Secretary Liam Fox has suggested that they will be the “easiest negotiations in human history.”
“The two phases are difficult. The second will be very different and will last several years. It is truly unique because instead of promoting regulatory convergence, it will aim to frame a difference. It will involve risks, including about its political ratification, making all the more necessary transparency around these topics,” Barnier said.
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