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What would an “interim” Brexit deal look like?

Simon Tilford

Once Theresa May triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, the UK will have two years to negotiate its exit from the EU. But it will take much longer than this to broker a trade deal between Britain and the EU to replace Single Market membership. As a result, there will be several years between Britain leaving the EU and a free trade agreement, or a Swiss-type bundle of sectoral agreements, coming into effect. For example, the EU-Canada trade agreement took seven years to negotiate and could take many more years to ratify in national parliaments—if the Belgian region of Wallonia has not completely torpedoed the deal this week by refusing to ratify it. And the obstacles in the path of a Swiss-type deal are, if anything, even bigger.

This gap could be covered by an interim deal. The alternative would be for Britain to leave the EU without any deal in place, and trade with the EU under WTO rules. Notwithstanding the bravado of some UK ministers, who argue that such an outcome would not be so bad, the British government wants to avoid this outcome. After all, it would mean tariffs on UK goods exports as well as of a loss of access to the EU services markets.


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