Brexit trade deal may not be signed until after UK has left the EU

Brexit Secretary David Davis, who has previously insisted a trade deal must be finalised before Brexit

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Brexit Secretary David Davis, who has previously insisted a trade deal must be finalised before Brexit
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Eric Vidal/Reuters

  • A Downing Street aide said a UK-EU trade deal may not be ready by 2019.
  • The source instead suggested only a broad outline of a deal would be ready.
  • Such an outcome would contradict previous assurances by Theresa May.

LONDON – A trade deal between the UK and the European Union may not be signed until after Brexit has taken place, according to a high-level source within Theresa May’s government.

According to The Times newspaper, a senior Downing Street aide said that the government is preparing to concede that only the broad outlines of an agreement will be ready on the date of exit in March 2019.

The source, who remained anonymous, said that a large portion of the specifics of an arrangement would need to be finalised after withdrawal.

The Times also noted that the aide used the term “transition period,”, rather than May’s preferred terminology of “implementation period.” This too would suggest continuing negotiations after Brexit, rather than simply breathing space to introduce a regime which had been agreed in advance.

If Brexit talks are not completed before March 2019 it could lead to increased calls for May to be forced out sooner, as she has previously insisted she will remain as prime minister while negotiations continue.

Such a move would anger pro-Brexit Conservatives, who believe that the future UK-EU relationship must be agreed before Brexit to avoid the possibilit of Britain being left in a never-ending transition.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has said that a trade deal will be completed in the next year, telling the Parliament’s Brexit select committee that: “We aim to have a comprehensive free trade agreement which would be a tariff-free.”

David also said: “A transition phase would only be triggered once we’ve completed the deal itself. We cannot carry on negotiating through that.”

A source from the Department for Exiting the EU, also cited by The Times, said there is a growing understanding that a trade deal will not be completed before March 2019.

They said: “The position is that we must know the terms of the future partnership when we leave. David Davis has previously talked about ‘heads of terms’.”

Unless a transition deal or a trade deal is completed between the EU and UK before Brexit, Britain would automatically revert to World Trade Organisation terms: the so-called “no-deal” scenario.