Brexit: UK must win EU deal by 2019 or face never-ending talks, says Liam Fox

Canada's deal with the EU is floundering after getting bogged down in Belgium's regional administrations

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 27 October 2016 10:08 BST
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said the UK must nail down trade terms with the EU in two years after Brexit talks begin, or risk getting tangled in seemingly endless negotiations.

Dr Fox said if Britain completes an EU deal quickly it will more easily be granted in Brussels, but if talks drag, the terms change and it will need approval through the same painstaking process which appears to be suffocating Canada’s EU trade agreement.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today pulled out of a scheduled summit in Brussels after politicians there failed to break their deadlock over the deal.

Once Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered by the UK, officially starting Brexit talks that will set future trade terms with the EU, Britain has two years to negotiate its deal with European states.

Dr Fox, one of the Cabinet’s leading Brexiteers, was speaking in Parliament when he explained that if an agreement can be reached in that time, it will only need to be approved by a majority vote in the European Council, on which EU leaders sit.

But if the two year period passes, the UK drops out of the EU and will have to negotiate a completely new free trade deal from outside the bloc – just as Canada is having to.

Brexit negotiators are 'in cloud cuckoo land', says man who negotiated Britain's EU rebate

The Canada deal, known as Ceta, has been in the making for seven years. It requires ratification by every EU state, and even some regional bodies. Belgium’s Wallonia region, led by Socialist Paul Magnette, effectively vetoed the deal this week to the despair of European Council President Donald Tusk.

Discussing the potential lessons for the UK, Dr Fox told the Commons European Scrutiny Committee: "The UK’s agreement in terms of disaggregation with the European Union is not a free trade agreement as such, but is dependent on [a majority vote] through the council, therefor not subject to the same sort of veto we’ve seen here.

"That sort of procedure would only be undertaken were we to leave the European Union after our Article 50 period, without any agreement whatsoever and were looking to seek a new [free trade agreement] from outside.

"So it’s in the interest quite clearly following this experience for all concerned to minimise any sort of economic, trade and political disruption to ensure that’s done with the minimal of fuss, and it’s done though [a majority vote] by council, rather than being negotiated from outside as Ceta was done."

Mr Tusk has said there would be consequences for Europe’s global position if it failed to strike a deal with Canada, "the most European country outside Europe and a close friend and ally".

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