Two of the country’s most authoritative voices on trade negotiations say the idea the UK and EU will have an ambitious trade deal in place by December 2020 is “crazy”.
In comments sent to every MP, Peter Mandelson, former EU Trade Commissioner, and David Henig, a former trade negotiator who worked on TTIP, have today spelled out the many obstacles to negotiating a free trade agreement in that time.
Peter Mandelson says that Parliament is in danger of writing Boris Johnson and the ERG “a blank cheque for No Deal in a year’s time”. He argues that “the absurdity of Johnson’s claim on Saturday that he will secure a comprehensive FTA by the end of next year needs to be challenged.
- David Henig says FTAs “typically take many years, sometimes decades, to negotiate and ratify – this doesn't happen in just a few months”. He also the process of translation and ratification in every EU member state usually takes “a minimum of 18 months”.
Peter Mandelson, former EU Trade Commissioner, said:
“Anyone who has been involved or close to EU trade negotiations knows it is inconceivable that the UK and EU could have an FTA in place by the end of December 2020 unless it is rudimentary and with little ambition. If the British government imagine that an agreement could be hammered out and agreed in a year it can only be because it will have limited depth or scope.
“The only reason why the ERG are so happy to go along with Boris Johnson’s plan is because they want to prioritise UK autonomy from the EU at the expense of UK access to the EU market. This means a little deal or, given the divergence they want, more likely No Deal. This is behindthe reassurance they have been given by Johnson that his ‘deal’ is a backdoor to No Deal in 14 months’ time.
“The absurdity of Johnson’s claim on Saturday that he will secure a comprehensive FTA by the end of next year needs to be challenged. This could only be achieved by conceding on every issue in the negotiations and accepting full alignment with EU rules and no say in those rules whenever they are revised. He knows as well as anyone that his party won’t allow him to do that.
“Anyone voting for Johnson’s withdrawal agreement are writing him a blank cheque for No Deal in a year’s time. MPs can close their eyes to this if they choose but it is their constituents who will be paying the price afterwards.”
David Henig, former trade negotiator and now UK Director of trade think-tank ECIPE, said:
“Comprehensive free trade agreements between major economies typically take many years, sometimes decades, to negotiate and ratify – this doesn't happen in just a few months.
“The EU doesn’t yet have a negotiating mandate, so serious talks won’t even begin until the spring, at best. They are already negotiating a number of trade agreements with other major economies which they won’t simply drop to rush through a deal with the UK.
“There are so many contentious issues which could hold up the talks or maybe derail them entirely. There will be complex negotiations over tariffs and whether to follow or diverge from EU regulations including a level playing field on workers’ rights, food standards and state aid, not to mention highly charged issues like fishing and Gibraltar. When I worked on TTIP negotiations between EU and US many of these issues were unresolved after three years.
“Identifying our own detailed positions, that support UK business as well as possible, can take many months before even talking to the EU.
“And if a UK-EU FTA can eventually be agreed it will have to be translated and ratified in every EU member state – a process that usually takes a minimum of 18 months.”