Boris Johnson can bag EU trade deal by 2020 if he avoids Theresa May's mistakes, says her former Brexit aide

Posted On: 
16th December 2019

Boris Johnson will be able to sign off on a "narrow and shallow" free trade agreement by the end of next year if he learns the lessons of Theresa May's time in office, her former top Europe adviser has said.

Boris Johnson and Theresa May.
Credit: 
PA

Raoul Raparel, who spent a year as Mrs May's special adviser on Europe and previously advised David Davis as Brexit Secretary, said the Prime Minister could secure a limited agreement by late 2020 with strong "central political direction".

On current plans, Britain will exit the so-called 'implementation period' - where it remains closely aligned to EU rules - by 31 December next year.

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The Tory manifesto vowed not to extend that period, triggering a race to secure a new trade pact with the bloc by that date.

In a new report for the Institute for Government think tank, Mr Ruparel says Whitehall is not yet set up to run complex Brexit negotiations, and urges the new government to learn from Mrs May's troubled stint in office to get a deal in place.

"There has been a lot of work done within various government departments, but much of this was done under Theresa May's government and often without any central co-ordination or direction," he writes.

"This means much of it may not in the end have much bearing on reality, or may actually conflict with the work other parts of government have done."

He added: "There urgently needs to be central political direction and decisions on the detail of the future relationship and the overarching strategy for the next phase - this should all then be turned into legal text as soon as possible (to help the UK get on the front foot)."

The former top aide is calling for the Department for Exiting the European Union to be wound down, with a new unit leading on negotiations set up either in Number 10 or the Cabinet Office or in a beefed-up super-ministry joined with the Department for International Trade.

He also urges the Prime Minister to learn from Mrs May by overseeing a "better communications operations and a clear public narrative", as well as involving Parliament, stakeholders and the public in the progress of the negotiations.

'MATCH-FIT'

Launching the report, Mr Ruparel said: "The Government and civil service have a lot of work to do if they are to prepare to leave with a deal – especially given Boris Johnson’s deadline of the end of 2020.

"As it stands, the UK does not yet appear ‘match-fit’ for the next phase of negotiations. There is a huge amount of work to be done to flesh out the detail of what the UK wants from its future relationship with the EU, and Whitehall is not yet ready to negotiate such a complex and wide-ranging agreement, nor implement it.

"But contrary to what many say, it is possible to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the EU by the end of next year."

The report comes after Cabinet minister Michael Gove insisted Mr Johnson could secure a trade agreement with the the EU by the 2020 deadline, despite scepticism from some quarters.

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said: "Quite a lot of the details that we need to negotiate is already laid out in the political declaration, so a lot of work has been done.

"And as a number of people have pointed out, there are areas where the European Union’s interests and the United Kingdom’s interests are already closely aligned, so I’m confident that we will be able not just to leave the EU on 31 January but also to conclude all the details of a new relationship in short order."

Asked whether Mr Johnson would break his promise not to extend the current transition period, the Cabinet Office minister said: "Nope."