it will still last for years "

Even if the divorce is enacted, it would remain to negotiate the future free trade agreement between London and Brussels, and it may be at least as long and complicated to conclude, warns Eric Albert, correspondent of the "World" in London.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Londes on October 28, 2019.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Londes on October 28, 2019. ISABEL INFANTES / AFP

Chronic. At this speed, Godot will eventually arrive before Brexit. Three years and four months after the referendum, with three deadlines postponed, the exit of the European Union (EU) from the United Kingdom is still not registered. The fault lies primarily with an extremely divided and uncompromising British Parliament – the Europeans, for their part, have already accepted two forms of the agreement.

Read also Europe accepts Brexit postponement by 31 January 2020

But if you can not stand this saga, bad news: it will still last for years. Even if the current withdrawal agreement gets approved by the British MPs, even if elections have a clear majority in the House of Commons, this will be just the first step. In a second step, the future free trade agreement between London and Brussels has yet to be negotiated, and it may be at least as long and complicated to conclude.

The withdrawal agreement only signes the divorce. It allows the British to no longer be members of the EU, which is politically very important. But economically, nothing will change. It will remain to be determined, sector by sector, which access to the single market the British will keep (and vice versa), which tariffs will apply, how sanitary, agri-food or financial standards will be recognized …

This kind of exercise normally takes years. CETA, the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada, took six years of negotiations. The one between the EU and South Korea took four years. Admittedly, there was not the same political urgency as in the case of Brexit, but the technical difficulties will be numerous.

Brexit in schema: a postponement, a first positive vote and many unknowns

There was this unexpected vote in the House of Commons in favor of a Brexit text on October 22 – a first since 2016 with 329 votes to 299 – and then a vote to deny the Prime Minister accelerated to examine its agreement negotiated with Brussels on 17 October. As a result, Boris Johnson was forced to request a new release date for the Twenty-Seven. On Monday 28 October, the EU granted a flexible postponement until 31 January 2020, by the President of the European Council, the Polish Donald Tusk.

The British Parliament won on the postponement at the end of January, against Boris Johnson who wanted to leave the EU on October 31, 2019, but one thing is certain: there are still many issues to be solved, the first of which is the Parliament's formal vote on the agreement, while for the moment it has only agreed to consider the law implementing the agreement.

In detail : Europe accepts Brexit postponement by 31 January 2020

The Prime Minister, who no longer has a majority, could, for example, ask Parliament to call a general election. But he needs two-thirds of the votes of the deputies.

Aware of the problem, London and Brussels have provided for a transition period in the withdrawal agreement until 31 December 2020, during which the current economic relations will remain the same. For businesses, nothing will change. But this transition period is becoming shorter and shorter. Initially, the Brexit was to take place on March 29, 2019, and it was to last almost two years. At the time, employers already warned that this could be insufficient. With the current delays, the transition will be barely a year.


Its extension is possible, for example until the end of 2021 or end of 2022. So expect to hear, over the next year, the risks of a … "no deal". The United Kingdom could indeed come out of this transition period without an agreement being reached. Overnight, it would become a third country trading at the basic standards of the World Trade Organization.


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