How long until the finish line? Nine months after Britain’s historic vote to leave the EU, the starting pistol was finally been fired on Brexit. At 12:30 GMT on 29 March 2017, a letter signed by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, will be delivered by hand to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. The clock will officially start counting down on the two-year negotiating period mandated in Article 50 of the European treaties (though this time limit can be extended indefinitely if all parties unanimously agree).
Two years is not much time to negotiate divorce proceedings and a new Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the UK. Can everything really be wrapped up by March 2019? We had a comment sent in by Mitsos, who was worried that Brexit negotiations will drag on and on, and might not be finished in two years. Is he right?
To get a reaction, we spoke to pro-Brexit MEP Roger Helmer from the UK Independence Party (UKIP). What would he say to Mitsos?
I think two years is pretty realistic. The Australia-America Free Trade Agreement was concluded in less than a year. So, just because the European Union tends to be very bad and very slow at trade agreements, it doesn’t mean it has to be. Also, because Britain has been in the European for 44 years, many of our regulations and our practices are really quite closely-aligned, and that should make it easy.
There’s also an enormous commercial incentive for both Britain and the rest of the EU to get an agreement because we do an enormous amount of cross-channel trade and, in fact, Britain buys far more from Europe than Europe buys from Britain. So, if you like, the incentive is even bigger for Brussels and for Europe to get a free trade deal than it is for the UK. I think it can be done, I think it should be done, and I hope it will be done.
For another perspective, we also spoke to Professor Iain Begg, Professorial Research Fellow at the European Institute of the London School of Economics and Political Science. What would he say?
Well, the trouble with the expression ‘Brexit negotiations’ is that they cover not just the divorce from the EU, which is what Article 50 is about, but also the subsequent relationship, which has a huge number of different layers to it. It’s possible to agree much of the divorce element of this within two years, although I’m sure there will be a lot of things not fully resolved at the end of the two-year period. But defining a future relationship is almost certain to take far longer, given all the experience we’ve seen of how long it takes to negotiate trade deals; seven years for Canada, and even then being derailed by a regional parliament in Wallonia. Therefore, it’s inconceivable that the future relationship will be sorted in the two-year period of the Brexit negotiations. It will leave a lot lingering with elements still to be filled in for as many as ten years beyond the Brexit date.
How long will the Brexit negotiations take? Can they be completed by the two-year deadline set out in Article 50? Or will they drag on for a decade? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!