Lawyers and trade negotiator experts predict long negotiations over Brexit

A number of expert international lawyers and trade negotiators with experience of long-running trade negotiators predict that such are the complexities of unravelling existing trade deals that it will take the United Kingdom many years to effect a full break from the European Union. This was the verdict of four speakers at a conference organised by the Matrix Chambers on Monday in London.  

Luis Gonzalez Garcia, who was previously the deputy general counsel for international trade negotiations for the Mexican government and had been one of the team that had negotiated the free trade agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, set out the steps that the UK government needed to take in order for the negotiations to stand a chance of being successful. These included obtaining the political support for any negotiating stance.

Dora Sif Tynes, who is head of the EEA (European Economic Area) Legal Services at the EFTA (European Free Trade Area) Secretariat, explained in detail how the EEA worked. She said that, while this might be an option for the UK as an alternative to EU membership, it would still involve close adherence to EU regulations. She said that the main text of the EEA Agreement is modelled on the EU Treaty.

She added that Switzerland, which is a member of the EEA, has around 100 bilateral agreements which enable the country to have access to the single market, in return for which Switzerland is obliged to implement relevant EU legislation.

Professor Takis Tridimas, both a barrister at Matrix Chambers and a professor at the Centre of European Law, explained that there would be two separate agreements that the UK would have to enter into.  One was the terms of the exit, after the UK had triggered Article 50 of the European Union Treaty, and the second would be the new terms on which the UK established a trading relationship with the other countries of the European Union. He raised the possibility that the UK could still revoke its intention to leave the European Union, even after triggering Article 50 because it would be within its sovereign rights to do so. He said, “The two-year period following the exercise of Article 50 may be enough for concluding the withdrawal agreement but not enough for agreeing a future trading relation, thus leading to a legal hiatus.”

He added: “The UK appears unprepared, there are appear to be no clear objectives and the civil service has made no prior preparation to manage the logistics of withdrawal.”

Aidan O’Neill QC offered a constitutional view on how Scotland might respond to the decision by the UK to leave the European Union, given the fact that the majority of people in Scotland wished to remain in the EU.  He argued: “The fact that the majority of the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the EU, that the Scottish Parliament is electorally answerable to EU citizens resident in Scotland, that the party forming the current Scottish administration completely dominates in terms of the electoral representation of Scotland in Westminster, all combine to put the current Scottish government in a strong position to present itself to the other EU Member States (and to the Commission) as the only honest broker, seeking in good faith to facilitate a settlement between the UK Government and the rest of the EU which recognises and preserves the rights of EU citizens settled here, and the rights of Britons who have exercised their free movement rights to live elsewhere in the EU.”

He continued: “The least worst way of achieving that end is for the UK to leave the EU, to re-join EFTA and, in that capacity, to sign up to the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement.”

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