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Prepare for a ‘skinny’ Brexit, says University of Cambridge professor

A University of Cambridge professor has said there is every chance that a trade deal negotiated with the EU by December 31, 2020, could be “quick and dirty”.

The deadline for UK-EU trade deal negotiations has been set at December 31, 2020
The deadline for UK-EU trade deal negotiations has been set at December 31, 2020

The government is planning to add a new clause to the Brexit Bill to rule out any extension to the transition period beyond the end of next year. The post-Brexit transition period – due to conclude at the end of next year – can currently be extended by mutual agreement for up to two years.

An amended Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which the Commons is set to vote on this week, would rule out any extension.

The UK is set to leave the EU on January 31 and soon after, the two sides will begin talking about their future economic relationship, including controversial areas such as fishing rights, consumer and environmental standards and financial services. Trade deals typically take many years to conclude.

Catherine Barnard, who is a professor of European Union and labour law, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “It’s going to be hard to unpick it because never before has a trade deal been done for dealignment rather than states coming together, so there’s no real template for that and that actually makes it more difficult perhaps than doing a trade deal from scratch. We spend a lot of time talking about trade deals in respect of goods but, in fact, for the UK economy services are far more important.

“And actually doing a trade deal over services is infinitely more difficult. That’s where the guillotine of December 31, 2020, becomes so important because there’s a good chance that a trade deal will be done, absolutely. But the quickest and easiest will be one on goods.

“So there is every chance that it will be what’s called a quick and dirty, or a skinny trade deal, which focuses primarily on goods for which the EU has a bigger interest than us because the EU has a trade surplus in respect of goods over the UK.”

Conservative MP Damian Green acknowledged that there could be deals in different sectors after the end of next year.

Prof Barnard added: “I think there will be a trade deal because the word trade deal is a beautifully elastic concept. It can go from something very skinny to something really quite fat. Now the fat version is what you see in the political declaration which accompanied the divorce text, but the problem is it will take time to negotiate something fat. And so I suspect what we will eventually see is there won’t just be one trade deal but they’ll be a rolling programme of negotiations.”

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