Former European Council president Herman Van Rompuy insisted Brexit would be a 'Herculean task'
Ex-European Council president Herman Van Rompuy insisted even negotiating Britain’s divorce from the bloc will be a “Herculean task” and two years to complete Brexit will “not nearly be enough”.
Mr Van Rompuy, famously compared to a “damp rag” by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, claimed Britain had “lost friends” across Europe.
Revealing his expectation the UK will formally leave the EU in 2019 without a free trade deal – and with only “informal talks” on the basis of a new relationship having taken place – the former Belgian prime minister suggested a transitional arrangement for Britain beyond Brexit would be merely the “phasing out” of its EU membership.
He also dismissed talk of Britain being able to sign free trade agreements with non-EU countries on its departure day.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has regularly insisted both Britain’s exit agreement and future trading relationship with the EU can be negotiated and concluded within the two-year timeframe set out by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal mechanism for departure.
But, in a speech at Chatham House in central London this morning, Mr Van Rompuy said: “We will not be ready for our future relationship when the UK leaves, just ahead of the European elections of June 2019.
“The transitional arrangement will not be about the phasing in or implementing of a non-existent trade deal.
“In reality it will rather be a phasing out after [the UK] having left the EU and Single Market without a free trade agreement.
“The UK has to acknowledge that Brexit is not high on the political agenda on each of the 27 remaining member states.
“A lot of the countries are focussed on their national elections. But even in normal times Brexit comes after jobs, migration, terrorism, taxes on the priority list of national leaders.”
The UK has to acknowledge that Brexit is not high on the political agenda on each of the 27 remaining member states.
Herman Van Rompuy
Mr Van Rompuy described the election of US President Donald Trump as a “bigger concern for the EU citizens than Brexit”.
Despite admitting the EU would seek a “special relationship” with Britain on areas such as security, research and development, migration and combating terrorism, Mr Van Rompuy claimed discussions on these areas would follow behind initial divorce talks and then later trade negotiations.
He said: “We can only think about a more comprehensive relationship when we have agreed on trade and there’s a long way to go.
“The remaining 18 months after the triggering of Article 50 and the following European Council will mainly be devoted to the separation treaty.
“We can have at the same time informal talks about the outlines of a free trade agreement. But in my view real sectoral negotiations will only start after the UK has left.”
Brexit: Which parts of the UK had the majority vote?
Fri, February 17, 2017
Much of the North East of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union including Sunderland, Gateshead, Darlington, Durham, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside, and Northumberland. Newcastle was the only borough to vote to remain.
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GREAT YARMOUTH: The town of Great Yarmouth on the East Coast of England voted by 72% to leave the European Union.
Recent research has suggested 35 countries are waiting to sign free trade deals with post-Brexit Britain.
Foreign Secretary has also told MPs the UK is at the front of the queue for a trade agreement with the US, according to President Trump’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson.
But Mr Van Rompuy claimed “no country will really engage with the UK” without Britain having first agreed its trading relationship with the EU.
He said: “Brexit necessitates a more global Britain to compensate for the losses of the European market. And you need many Indias… to replace the union.”
The former Brussels bureaucrat claimed both the EU and the UK needed to work to “restore trust” lost during the Brexit referendum campaign, as he appeared to take aim at Theresa May’s suggestion she could slash business taxes to undercut the EU if no Brexit deal is agreed.
Mr Van Rompuy said: “Threats are not impressive or impressing nobody but many can be shocked.”
He also insisted the remaining EU member states would remain united in the face of “external threats” such as Brexit, the election of President Trump and the activities of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Claiming “Brexit is not the template for further exits” from the EU by other member states, he urged EU leader to not “waste” the opportunity to push forward with greater integration over the next few years.