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EU will not offer Theresa May a bespoke trade deal, warns UK's former top Brussels diplomat

EU will not offer Theresa May a bespoke trade deal, warns UK's former top Brussels diplomat

John Ashmore

4 min read

The Government will not be able to secure the bespoke Brexit trade deal promised by Theresa May, the UK's former top Brussels diplomat warned today.

Sir Ivan Rogers delivered a brutal verdict on the Government's approach to Brexit so far, saying the Government had been "screwed" over the sequencing of negotiations by rushing to trigger Article 50.

And he warned that quitting the bloc without a deal would mean the UK would "jump into the void", with huge sections of the economy not covered by World Trade Organisation rules. 

The career diplomat served as permanent representative to the European Commission before dramatically announcing his resignation at the start of the year with an attack on the Government's "muddled thinking" on Brexit.

His warning over the likelihood of a non-bespoke deal echoes the words of Brussels negotiator Michel Barnier, who said yesterday he expected a "model that is closer to the agreement signed with Canada". 

Appearing before MPs this afternoon, Sir Ivan said the EU side were becoming frustrated with the lack of detail on the kind of deal the Government is looking for. 

He told the Treasury Select Committee that quitting the single market and customs union meant the best the Prime Minister could hope for was a "deep and comprehensive free trade agreement" - but he warned that this would not be the kind of UK-specific deal she was aiming for.

"If you read this through European eyes, not just Brussels and Strasbourg eyes, but the major capitals, they would say, 'you’re clearly leaving the single market, you’re clearly leaving the customs union…if that’s the case and you’re no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the court, you’re no longer making contributions to the Budget and you’re no longer respecting the four freedoms, because by definition you wish to curtail the fourth freedom, free movement of people, then if you’re a European of the sort I used to deal say: ‘Well, that takes Britain substantially further out of the union’s orbit than Switzerland, or Norway or even Turkey.'

"And therefore in the world they inhabit they’ll say that means what you really want is a DCFTA - a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. 

"And I think they’ll say, ‘we can do you one of those’ but that isn’t a bespoke, unique, British-specific deal, it’s a DCFTA and I’ve done several DCFTAs before and they come with several consequences in terms of market access."


He poured cold water on the idea the UK could keep the benefits of EU membership while suspending free movement of people.  

"I don’t think that’s at all the mainstream European thinking," Sir Ivan said. 

"I think people think there’s a radical difference between a free trade agreement and single market and customs union membership and the Brits need to understand that there will be a radical difference in terms of levels of market access in multiple sectors that they care about as a consequence of exiting...and we cannot expect simple continuity whether it’s in energy or telecoms or financial services…the British can’t simply expect the world to carry on broadly as is."


Sir Ivan also revealed he had pushed hard for the Government not to trigger Article 50 as early as March of this year, arguing that the EU would use the opportunity to dictate the sequence of the negotiations.

"There’s no point my being wise after the event, tempting though it is. I mean I did say last autumn I would not agree unequivocally to invoke Article 50 unless you know how Article 50 is going to work because the moment you invoke Article 50 the 27 dictate the rules of the game and they’ll set up the rules of the game in the way that most suits them," he said.

"If you wanted to avoid being screwed in the negotiations in terms of the sequencing, if I can put it brutally, you had to negotiate with the key European leaders and the key people at the top of the institutions and say: ‘I will invoke Article 50, but only under circumstances where I know exactly how its’ going to operate’.

"That’s not what we did.

"We are where we are, they’ve set up the sequencing exactly as you would think [saying] 'let’s just maximise the pressure on the British side to move on money and squeeze as hard as possible because the debate they really want to have is about the future partnership, so the more pressing that gets to them and the more pressing it gets to their private ​sector to talk about transition the more likely they are to be more generous with their money'.

"Anybody could have told you that that’s exactly what the 27 would do."

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