- Sir Ivan Rogers: Negotiations over Britain’s Brexit divorce bill will be “bitter and twisted.”
- A new UK-EU trade deal could take over a decade to negotiate.
- Britain is up against a “class act” negotiator in the EU Commission.
- Some MPs are in “their own cocoons” when it comes to Brexit.
LONDON — Britain’s former ambassador to the European Union said on Wednesday that negotiations over the size of Britain’s Brexit bill will be “bitter and twisted,” with neither side likely to back down.
Speaking to the Brexit select committee in Parliament on Wednesday morning, Sir Ivan Rogers told MPs that negotiations could get “bitter and twisted on money.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has informed Theresa May’s government that the EU expects Britain to hand over £49 billion (€60 billion, $US61 billion) as part of its divorce from the political union. Sir Ivan, who up until recently was in charge of Britain’s diplomatic relationship with the EU, told MPs that talks between May’s government and EU leaders will likely turn nasty when the issue of the bill comes up.
Sir Ivan went on to warn committee members, including passionate Brexiteer Michael Gove, that exit talks with the EU will be incredibly tough and require up to a decade of negotiations.
“We’re up against a class act with the European Commission on negotiating,” Sir Ivan said. He added that negotiators in Brussels estimate that a new UK-EU trade deal will not be finalised until close to 2030, meaning the Brexit process in its entirety could take more than ten years to complete.
“It may take until the mid-2020s until there is a ratified deep and fully comprehensive free-trade agreement,” he said. A new trade arrangement would then probably take two years to be ratified by EU member states.
“Canada [the EU-Canada trade deal] not only nearly fell apart on Wallonia, it nearly fell apart on Romania and Bulgaria and visas,” Sir Ivan said.
Sir Ivan resigned as Britain’s ambassador to the EU last month. In his resignation letter to colleagues, he urged them to challenge “ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking” in what was widely interpreted as a thinly-veiled swipe at cabinet ministers like Boris Johnson and David Davis.
Sir Ivan denied this interpretation on Wednesday, saying the remark was a “generic” comment about the system as a whole, rather than a criticism of individual members of Theresa May’s government.
However, the experienced civil servant told MPs that politicians in London are at risk of being “in their own cocoons” and require a robust civil service to shoot down unrealistic political aims.
“If it doesn’t make sense you’ve got to be robust about saying that doesn’t make sense,” he said.
A key issue facing Britain ahead of talks is whether May would be willing to take the country out of the EU with no free trade deal or transitional arrangement in place. In this scenario, Britain would default to World Trade Organisation trading rules, something that many MPs and City figures have strongly advised against.
Sir Ivan urged the government to think very carefully about the prospect of falling back to WTO rules, saying “no other major players trade with the EU on pure WTO terms. They strike other deals.
“It’s not true that the Americans do, or the Australians, or the Israelis or the Swiss.”