IFG - The UK could secure an EU trade deal in 2020 if it learns lessons of Brexit talks

18 Dec 2019 02:02 PM

In a new report for the Institute for Government, former prime ministerial adviser Raoul Ruparel says it is possible for the UK to negotiate a narrow and shallow Free Trade Agreement with the EU – and have it ratified and in place – by the end of 2020.

However, Ruparel, who spent a year as Theresa May’s special adviser on Europe and before that worked as an adviser to then Brexit secretary David Davis, warns that Whitehall is yet not set up to run complex Brexit negotiations or implement the result. He says the Department for Exiting the European Union should now be wound down, and the government should set up a new unit for negotiations and delivery run from the Cabinet Office or move DExEU’s work into the Department for International Trade (DIT).

Writing a guest report for the IfG, Ruparel argues that lessons must be learned from the first round of Brexit negotiations if future talks are to succeed, and warns that departmental preparations made under Theresa May’s government lacked direction and “may not have much bearing on [the current] reality”.

Ruparel says 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).”

Ruparel also warns that the desire for a deal to be in force by the end of 2020 may end up limiting the ambition of the negotiations. He argues that the government may face a choice as to whether the deal on offer is worth the EU’s demands in areas such as ‘level playing field’ and fisheries. This choice suggests that the risk of the UK falling to reach an agreement by the end of 2020 is still real.

Raoul 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.”

Notes to editors

  1. Full report can be found on our website
  2. The Institute for Government is an independent think tank that works to make government more effective.

For more information, including data to reproduce any charts, please contact press@instituteforgovernment.org.uk / 0785 031 3791.

Associated documents: