EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom said the bloc will strike a trade deal with Britain
In remarks which will have been closely watched in London top eurocrat Cecilia Malmstrom insisted the bloc will look to strike a fresh economic pact with the UK as soon as possible.
The Swedish EU trade commissioner said that a new relationship with Britain should only take "a couple of years" to complete and calmed nerves with a promise to seek a transitional accord to prevent any turbulence.
Ms Malmstrom also dismissed suggestions that Britain will be "back of the queue" for a deal with Brussels once it quits the bloc, saying that her team negotiates trade agreements simultaneously and not in sequence.
She made the remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday, where she appeared on a panel of experts discussing the growing global backlash against free trade.
The Swedish politician made the remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos
They will come as a welcome boost to Theresa May's negotiating team
The Brussels trade chief admitted she was caught totally by surprise by the Brexit vote last June and conceded that herself and other economists had been "wrong so many times" in 2016.
She said: "We were hoping and also expecting that in the end our British friends would vote to stay. I'm sorry that they leave us but we have to respect that and we need to find a solution.
"First of all they have to formally invoke the Article 50, the letter of divorce. Then the European Council will discuss that and based on that they will give a mandate to the Commission to negotiate.
"Then, if they do leave as the prime minister has said the internal market and also probably the customs union, there will have to be all the exit procedures and then there will be a trade agreement between us and the United Kingdom which would be negotiated after they have left."
It takes a couple of years depending on what you want to be in it
EU trade chief Cecilia Malmstrom
Asked how long it would take to strike such a pact, she replied: "It's hard to say but it takes a couple of years depending on what you want to be in it and how the mandate looks like. But it will not be over a weekend, no."
Ms Malmstrom said she expected London and Brussels to negotiate a transitional agreement which will maintain economic ties for the entire time it takes to negotiate a fresh trade relationship.
And she said that whilst the EU is "busy" negotiating "16 or 17" trade deals at the moment, it will not be the case that Britain will be bottom of any queue for a future agreement.
She explained: "It's not like first we take Manhattan then we take Berlin. We do them all at the same time.
"Sometimes some go quicker, some go slower, some take a break because of some political circumstances or other. So it's not like we tick them one after another."
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The remarks will provide a major boost for Mrs May as she tries to calm nerves amongst the business community over the possible implications of losing unrestricted access to the single market.
Leading commercial figures have expressed fears that the UK will fall off a cliff edge after the two-year negotiating period afforded by Article 50 ends, and will have to revert to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
But Ms Malmstrom's remarks demonstrate a determination in Brussels to ensure that the talks do not break down to a point which will inflict economic damage on both sides of the Channel.
The UK Govenrment has recently softened its stance on the possibility of a transitional deal being struck for beyond 2019, with Mrs May recently hailing such a solution as a sensible way to ensure financial stability for both Britain and the EU.