LONDON — A document that appears to reveal parts of the government’s Brexit negotiation strategy suggests that Brexit is going to take up to a decade to complete.
The handwritten note was being carried by the aide of a Conservative Party vice-chairman when photographer Steve Back managed to capture the notes on camera. A government spokesperson said that the handwritten memo “is not a government document and does not reflect government views.”
The memo says that the government’s desired Brexit model is to “have cake and eat it” — an indication that Theresa May’s team would ideally like to both retain single market membership and restrict immigration from the EU. However, the memo admits that remaining in the single market is unlikely.
One of the most interesting notes on the document says that Theresa May could be considering a “Canada-plus” option, seemingly a reference to the CETA free-trade deal that was recently agreed between the EU and Canada.
CETA took over seven years to negotiate and nearly collapsed at the eleventh hour before it was finally signed by the Canadian government and EU. The time it took to negotiate the deal was evidence of just how complex and time-consuming negotiating international free-trade deals can be. Trade expert Linda Lim told Business Insider that this kind of deal usually takes at least five years to agree, with some taking even longer.
This is significant because if the prime minister intends to leave the single market and negotiate a trade deal with the EU then the Brexit process could take just as long as CETA, or even longer than that. The EU must secure approval from the national governments all member states before entering trade deals and this is no easy task, as found out when the Belgium region of Wallonia blocked Charles Michel’s government from supporting the EU-Canada deal.
is this the first insight into Brexit seen going into No10 from the Brexit/cabinet office women holding was with Mark Field MP ? pic.twitter.com/XXeFGFQIa0
— Political Pictures (@PoliticalPics) November 28, 2016
Furthermore, if May opts for a CETA-style free trade with the EU, the time it would take for the deal to come into effect would more than likely run beyond the 2-year time frame allowed by the notification of Article 50, meaning there will be a period of uncertainty between the two events.
This increases the possibility of a transitional deal, something which May hinted at when she told business leaders that they wouldn’t face an economic “cliff edge” earlier this month. The memo suggests that ministers aren’t keen on a transitional agreement, but it would protect the City from the risk of exiting the EU with no arrangements in place.
May will need to a big team of talented negotiators at her disposal in order to negotiate a CETA-style deal but Whitehall is massively underresourced ahead of Brexit negotiations, according to a report published by the Institute for Government earlier this month. The report warned that the sheer workload of negotiating Britain’s exit from the 28-nation bloc presented an “existential threat” to some departments.