Interim Brexit deal with EU ‘inevitable’ for UK, says former Foreign Office chief

By on 26/10/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Sir Simon Fraser (left), former permanent secretary and head of the Diplomatic Service at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, pictured with former foreign secretary Philip Hammond (right) at the department's headquarters in London

The UK will need an interim deal with the European Union before it fully leaves the bloc, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s former civil service chief has said.

Sir Simon Fraser said yesterday that a deal on the two parties’ future economic and political relations would “inevitably” take longer than the two years allowed under Article 50, the formal mechanism through which member states can leave the EU.

Fraser was permanent secretary at the Foreign Office between 2010 and 2015. Speaking at the Institute for Government think tank earlier this week, he said the UK would have to accept that the EU will seek to apply a “price tag” for leaving the union to “discourage others from pursuing the same path”.

“One of the objectives of the EU will be to make it absolutely clear to anybody else considering leaving that that’s not a good idea,” Fraser said. “I’m not a catastrophist, but this is going to be incredibly difficult and complicated and complex and tough as a negotiation. And we are going to have to accept that in terms of our economic relationship with the EU, there will be a price tag.”

Fraser said the prospect of trade negotiations taking longer than two years means the UK will need to negotiate interim measures until they are completed.

He said there had been a lot of “loose talk” in the public arena about the nature of such an arrangement without much focus on detail. “My assumption is what we are talking here is some kind of continuation of our access in the single market based on the current situation,” he said.

Fraser highlighted the “great repeal bill”, which will be introduced when Article 50 is triggered, as a possible basis for an interim arrangement as it would transpose EU law into UK law, “giving us the legal basis I assume for continuing that relationship on the basis of the content of existing law”.

As to whether the EU would offer such a deal, Fraser said: “I suspect if I was in a negotiation with the UK, I wouldn’t want to give an early signal that I was going to focus in a concessionary way on an interim agreement too soon. We have to remember that EU will be negotiating in its own interests and they will not be at the table trying to find favourable deals for the UK.

“On the other hand, I do believe it is in their interests that we do avoid an abrupt rupture in the economic and political relationship between us and Europe.”

On the question of parliament’s involvement in the Brexit deal as it takes shape, Fraser said some kind of vote was likely.

“Personally I do not understand how we could go through a multi-year negotiation to determine terms on which we leave the EU without some sort of parliamentary vote on that. If you were in a commercial organisation you would never commit yourself now to accepting the terms of a negotiation on a deal that was going to be finished in two years’ time. So I don’t know how it’s going to be done, but it seems that at a basic level that is a requirement that’s going to be needed.”

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About Ben Willis

Ben Willis is a journalist and editor with a varied background reporting on topics including public policy, the environment, renewable energy and international development. His work has appeared in a variety of national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times, as well as numerous specialist business, policy and consumer publications.

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