UK to negotiate keeping current trade deals with non-EU countries weeks before leaving bloc

Written by Nicholas Mairs on 4 June 2018 in News

Move could leave International Trade Secretary Liam Fox forced to negotiate continuation of Britain’s current free trade agreements in under three months

Image credit: PA

The UK will need to negotiate keeping its current trade arrangements with countries outside of the European Union in a matter of weeks before quitting the bloc, it has emerged.

Figures in Brussels have reportedly confirmed that the EU will not write to countries, with which it has trade deals currently, asking them to treat the UK as part of the EU during the transition period until Theresa May signs the Brexit legal text.

The move could mean International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will be forced to negotiate the continuation of Britain’s current free trade agreements in under three months, from December of this year at an EU summit, to March 29 2019 when the UK leaves the EU.

EU negotiators agreed to write on the UK’s behalf to all the countries the bloc has a trade deal with last December, however the stance threatens a cliff-edge with key nations such as Japan and South Korea.

An EU official told The Times: “We will inform third countries once there is sufficient certainty about the outcome of the ongoing negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal, which also cover any transitional arrangements”

“This notification should take place after signature of the withdrawal agreement.”

International Trade Committee chair and SNP MP Angus McNeill said the Government was being made to “look like amateurs” while Tory committee colleague Marcus Fysh said Britain was being “held over a barrel” and should already be negotiating bilateral agreements.

The revelation comes as senior pro-Brexit voices call on Britain to compromise between “hardline leavers and extreme remainers” by accepting some EU rules after Brexit.

Thinktank Open Europe, which although neutral during the referendum has close ties to prominent Brexiteers, says that “giving up some control, or sovereignty, over goods regulation is a price worth paying for strong market access”.

Their report, which is backed by Lord Lamont and Next CEO Lord Wolfson, risks angering those prominent Brexiteers seeking a clean break from Brussels rules.

Former Chancellor Lord Lamont said: “When it comes to goods, the proportion of our trade with Europe is higher than that of our services.

“We should recognise that whatever the nature of our future relationship with the EU, many industries will continue to make their products to European standards, particularly if they want to trade with the EU.”

The group add however that trying to replicate the “patchy single market” in services would mean Britain giving away “too much control over its economy for too little gain”.

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