Sunday, December 10News That Matters

UK's expectations of Brexit talks 'unrealistic'

The UK is unprepared and is entering Brexit talks with “unrealistic” expectations, according to a City economist.

Malcolm Barr, who works for JP Morgan, one of the world’s largest banking institutions, said of the Brexit negotiations: “I’m not convinced that (the UK is) really very well prepared at all, to be perfectly blunt.”

He told Sky’s Ian King Live programme: “I think that some of the expectations which this administration has encouraged people to have about what can be delivered through the Brexit process are a little bit unrealistic, in terms of what the whole process can deliver and how quickly we can work through and actually be delivering the things we’ve said we want in terms of control of migration, control of our regulatory and legal structures.

“The idea that we’re going to be able to move directly to that as we leave at some point in probably March 2019, or perhaps a little after, I think we need to be pretty realistic about realising that this is probably going to end up being a more phased and gradual process than much of the debate has suggested so far.”

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an European Union leaders summit, on June 22, 2017, at the European Council in Brussels
Image:Theresa May was on the red carpet today but there is no star treatment at Brexit talks

His words come as Theresa May visits Brussels for her first European summit since winning the election a few weeks ago, albeit with less credibility after failing to win enough seats to govern alone.

Mr Barr, whose bank employs more than 14,000 people in the UK, said that this change in position for the Prime Minister could prompt concern from the EU’s negotiators.

It would not, in the end, change the way in which they approach the talks, however.

He said: “I’m not convinced that the EU’s position had a lot of flexibility built into it based on whether Theresa May had a big majority or not.

“I think there’s now a concern on the EU side that the people on the other side of the table, as it were, may change and may wish to revisit things which had previously been agreed.

“But I don’t think it was ever the case that a particularly big majority would have really cut a lot of ice in terms of changing how the EU was viewing this Brexit negotiation process.

“I think it was always the case that the EU has a clear view about what it wants to achieve – it knows the timelines it thinks it’s working to and ultimately I think the EU has thought that, while there was some room to haggle at the margins, the UK was ultimately going to have to align with its view of the process rather than being able to impose it itself.”

David Davis and Michel Barnier
Image:David Davis and Michel Barnier as Britain started formal talks to leave the EU

He said the UK currently relies on the EU to set the framework for more than 30 regulatory agencies, which will now have to be replaced, but there was no “well-defined single document… that maps out how we think those regulatory agencies in the UK are going to work”.

Mr Barr added: “It is perfectly reasonable for the EU to be asking the UK: What is it you want to do in those spaces? How are those systems in the UK going to work?

“Those things just don’t exist at the moment.

“It’s in that respect that we go into the negotiations perhaps looking significantly less well prepared than we might expect to.”

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