Europe’s politicians believe a trade deal with the UK could take up to a decade or more and could still fail in the final stages, Downing Street has been warned by the UK’s ambassador to the EU.
Sir Ivan Rogers, who conducted David Cameron’s renegotiation with the EU before the referendum, is reported to have told Theresa May that European politicians expect that a deal will not be finalised until the early to mid-2020s, according to the BBC. That deal could still be rejected by any of the 27 national parliaments during the ratification process.
It is understood Rogers was reporting back conversations he had had with European politicians, rather than giving his own advice to the British government.
“It is wrong to suggest this is advice from our ambassador to the EU,” a No 10 spokesman said. “Like all ambassadors, part of his role is to report the views of others.”
The former Tory minister Dominic Raab, a leave campaigner, said it was “reasonable to set out a worst-case scenario of five to 10 years to iron out all the detail of a trade deal”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday: “The crucial question is whether we maintain barrier-free trade in the meantime, in which case there’s no real problem. I have to say it’s very unlikely in the interim that the EU would want to erect trade barriers.”
Speaking later in the House of Commons, Mark Garnier, a trade minister, said Rogers had been reporting the views of “interlocutors”. He admitted it was incredibly difficult to know how long it would take to complete a trade deal but pointed out that one between the US and Jordan had taken just four months.
The assessment of the long road ahead by one of Britain’s top diplomats will come as no surprise to those in Brussels. In the run-up to the referendum, Donald Tusk, president of the European council, warned that Britain could face seven years of uncertainty in negotiating its new status, with no guarantee of success.
British government officials have told ministers it could take a decade to extricate the UK from EU law, with the domestic legislative agenda likely to be dominated by unwinding EU membership for years to come.
But the reports come after the Brexit secretary, David Davis, told a select committee hearing that “everything is negotiable” within a year and a half of the formal article 50 notification in March. The deal would then take about six months to be agreed by European leaders, the European parliament and the British parliament.
While Davis is optimistic, May declined to respond to questions on the Brexit timetable as she arrived in Brussels for an EU summit at which leaders of the other 27 member states will draw up plans to be “battle ready” for Brexit at a dinner from which the prime minister is excluded.
However, she welcomed the fact that other EU leaders were discussing Brexit without her, saying: “It is right that other leaders prepare for those negotiations as we have been preparing.”
Philip Hammond, the chancellor, said earlier this week that all “thoughtful politicians” were clearly in favour of striking a transitional deal with the EU to smooth the Brexit process but Downing Street has so far refused to confirm it will seek this.