The UK could get a trade deal with the EU before the end of 2020, if it learns lessons from the Brexit process, according to a new report from the Institute for Government (IfG) published on Monday.
Raoul Ruparel, a former senior adviser to Theresa May, argues in the report that a “narrow and shallow Free Trade Agreement with the EU” could be done by the end of next year, despite scepticism over the feasibility of negotiating and ratifying such a deal.
However, there would need to be a rejig of civil service departments to account for post-Withdrawal Agreement changes, according to the report. It suggests winding down the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), with a new unit for negotiations and delivery run from the Cabinet Office or moving the work into the Department for International Trade.
According to reports in the Mail on Sunday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson plans to combine the Department for International Trade and DExEU into the remit of the Cabinet Office. This would currently see Michael Gove, who was previously in charge of no-deal planning, in charge of an EU-UK deal.
Ruparel, author of the IfG report, argued the current Whitehall setup “may not have much bearing on [the current] reality”.
He also warned that a change of strategy towards Brexit was needed. “[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),” he said.
The report advised caution as the UK may have to be willing to swallow poor terms in order to obtain a quick deal in areas such as the EU’s “level playing field” and fisheries.
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.”