Brexit deal with EU will take longer than 2 years, warns gov't report

LONDON, Dec. 13 (Xinhua) — A bespoke Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union will take more than two years to reach, politicians at Westminster said Tuesday.

Two committees of the House of Lords, covering EU external affairs and EU internal affairs published a detailed report on a range of potential Brexit trade agreements.

Once Britain formally sets the exit process in motion by triggering Article 50, it kick-starts a maximum two-year “divorce” process. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said last week he wants Britain’s exit to be completed within 18 months of triggering article 50.

Baroness Verma, who chairs the EU external affairs committee, said in Tuesday’s report: “It is unlikely that a bespoke EU trade agreement can be agreed within Article 50’s two-year period, so a transitional deal is vital for protecting British trade, and jobs that rely on trade.”

“The government should focus on trade with the EU and its World Trade Organization (WTO) schedules. Deals with non-EU countries are contingent on the outcome of these negotiations, and need to be sequenced accordingly,” she added.

“The complexity of the issues and the tight timetable require a significant scale-up in capacity in government departments and clear leadership across Whitehall,” Verma stated.

Meanwhile Lord Whitty, who chairs the EU Internal Affairs committee, said trade-offs will need to be made in whatever trading framework is eventually agreed.

“The government is committed to curbing the free movement of people and the reach of the European Court of Justice. This is incompatible with full single market membership,” said Whitty.

“While an FTA would provide the greatest flexibility, and no commitment to freedom of movement, there is no evidence that it could provide trade on terms equivalent to membership of the (EU) single market,” he added.

The report is the second of six being published by the House of Lords examining the impact of Brexit will have on a range of topics.

The report says the European Economic Area (EEA) is the least disruptive option for trade, but is unlikely to be reformed to limit free movement or give Britain voting rights on EU legislation.

“The government urgently needs to decide whether or not the UK will remain in a customs union with the EU. Doing so would mean no border checks for goods between the UK and EU, but would restrict the UK’s ability to sign trade deals with the rest of the world,” said the report.

Looking at a transitional arrangement between London and Brussels, the report recognizes the government wants a bespoke agreement with the EU post Brexit. But the report concludes that tailoring existing trade models would be difficult, warning that an FTA with the EU would take longer than two years to negotiate.

The committees say Westminster will need to agree a transitional trade arrangement between Britain leaving the EU and full implementation of new trade terms.

“Temporary extension of participation in the customs union could be one important element of this. The government should establish a clear ‘game plan’ for a transitional arrangement at the outset of negotiations under Article 50,” the report said.

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