Britain faces ‘legal void’ if it fails to strike EU trade deal says Sir Ivan Rogers

Britain must seek “the biggest free trade agreement ever” with the EU and risks falling into “a legal void” if it fails to strike any new trade deal, the UK’s former ambassador to Brussels has warned.

A comprehensive trade deal covering goods and services, eliminating tariffs and recognising standards could mean Britain keeps many of the trading advantages of the EU, but remains free to control migration and strike external trade deals, Sir Ivan Rogers said.

“What the UK ideally may want with the EU is the biggest free trade agreement ever struck, which covers not only goods and tariffs, but also covers services in a way that goes far deeper than for the EU-Canada [deal] or EU-South Korea,” he told the Brexit committee of MPs.

Theresa May has argued that “no deal is better than a bad deal” on trade on the basis that the UK can use World Trade Organisation rules and the EU will acknowledge UK rules are the same as EU rules on the first day after Brexit.

But Sir Ivan believes that solution is not as simple as it sounds, as the EU treats non-members as a ‘third country’ in its jargon.

“First of all you have to be on the list of countries permitted to export into the EU market, secondly individual firms then have to be approved, and thirdly individual consignments of goods have to be cleared before they are allowed on the EU market,” Sir Ivan said.

“So why isn’t WTO fine… they say, if there is no agreement with us, then you fall into a legal void.”

Even without a major free trade agreement, the UK will still have to strike some deal with the EU, he added.

“That is why no other major player trades with the EU on pure WTO-only terms – they strike preferential trade deals where they can, but they also strike more minor equivalence agreements,” he said.

“Financial services equivalence, veterinary equivalence, mutual conformity of assessment agreements – the EU has mutual conformity of assessment agreements with the US, with Canada, Switzerland, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and others.”

Separately the World Trade Organisation’s members today agreed a new Trade Facilitation Agreement that seeks to speed up border crossings by publishing fees and charges online, introducing a fast-track scheme for perishable goods, processing of documents before goods arrive at the border, and the right to appeal customs decisions.

Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, said the new rules “remove some of the barriers to cross-border trade and could benefit the UK economy by up to £1bn”

By Tim Wallace

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