Frost’s staggering confession on Brexit deal timescale unearthed amid trade breakthrough

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The UK and the EU are closing in on a post-Brexit trade deal after months of sometimes bitter negotiations. A deal is expected to be announced today, after negotiators continued talks throughout the night following a number of last minute hold ups. People close to the talks said that the ongoing work included fine-tuning the details of agreements struck on Wednesday on EU fishing rights in UK waters.

However, officials on both sides said the terms of the post-Brexit relationship were essentially settled.

The path to a deal opened up after President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Boris Johnson took personal control of the negotiations this week, with fishing access the last major sticking point.

The deal will preserve tariff-free EU-UK trade for goods. It will also cover issues such as police and security co-operation, and preserve the cross-border energy market, but it will do little for the services sector.

Nevertheless, it will be a huge triumph for Mr Johnson.

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Even his chief Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost did not believe he would have been able to strike a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Brussels within the given time frame.

After Britain voted to leave in June 2016, Mr Frost, a long time ambassador, wrote a column in which he revealed his vision for the future negotiations with Brussels.

He wrote: “First, we need to be realistic about how to negotiate Brexit.

“It will be our most complex negotiation ever. We can’t afford to get it wrong. Whole industries could be destroyed if we do so.”

Adopting a Norway status immediately as a transitional arrangement, Mr Frost wrote, would have been the best option.

He also claimed that after the scheduled exit, Britain should have retained this status for five years and use the period to either reflect or, if necessary, negotiate an FTA like Canada’s.

He explained: “Remainers and Leavers should also be able to unite around this as a transitional arrangement.

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“Remainers because it is the least disruptive in the short run and would preserve important economic and business interests like the financial services passport.

“Leavers because it would achieve Brexit quickly, extract us from everything bar the single market and some closely associated policies, return to us our own farming and fisheries policies, and give us at least the protection of the EEA safeguard clause for free movement. And if we want to go further, we always have that option.”

Mr Frost, who at the time was the CEO of the Scottish Whiskey Association, noted in his piece for The Telegraph: “Of course both sides would have to compromise.

“But they are going to have to anyway.

“As a former trade negotiator, I don’t believe we can agree, ratify, and implement a Canada or Swiss-style FTA in two years. It is just too complex.

“Nor can we put in place and effectively enforce quickly an Australian-style points system for immigration.

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“We need time and this gives us it.”

Former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has often been mocked for claiming in 2017 that securing to a FTA with the EU should be “one of the easiest in human history” because rules and laws are already the same.

Political commentator Tom Harwood noted on Twitter that actually, wrapping up an entire FTA in just 11 months means that it really has been.

He added: “Many used to mock Brexiteers, arguing this would take at least a decade…”

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