Britain’s EU withdrawal deal is likely to “favour” the 27 remaining members financially, Brexit Secretary David Davis has said.
Mr Davis’s comment came as it was revealed that as many as 5,000 customs staff are to be recruited next year as part of preparations for Brexit costing more than £500 million.
The sixth round of formal negotiations on the Brexit deal will take place in Brussels on November 9 and 10, as Britain seeks to step up the pace in the hope of securing a green-light for trade negotiations to begin at December’s European Council summit.
David Davis leaves the cabinet meeting with Michael Fallon (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
The dates were jointly announced by Mr Davis and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who said an agenda for the talks will be published “in due course”.
Mr Davis told the House of Lords EU Committee he was hopeful of securing political agreement by the end of March 2018 on an “implementation period” lasting around two years after the March 2019 date of Brexit, during which the UK would operate under existing EU rules to allow businesses time to transition to new arrangements.
And he played down his previous suggestion that negotiations on a free trade deal might continue right up to the deadline, telling peers he believed a political agreement on the future relationship could be reached by October 2018, even if it could not be signed until “one second past midnight” on March 30 2019.
He told peers: “The withdrawal agreement, on balance, will probably favour the Union in terms of things like money and so on, whereas the future relationship will favour both sides and will be important to both of us.”
Acknowledging the pressure placed on him by Article 50’s two-year deadline for talks, Mr Davis quoted the comment of Napoleonic war hero the Duke of Wellington: “Ask me for anything but time.”
But he said it was “very, very, very improbable” that talks would break up without a deal of any kind.
Even a “bare bones” agreement which did not cover trade or the transition was likely to ensure “basic” essentials like continued co-operation on aviation and nuclear safety are in place, he predicted.
“I don’t think we will end up with a circumstance where there is no agreement on a number of fundamental issues,” Mr Davis told peers.
“Whatever happens, we will have some sort of basic deal… What is commonly thought of as ‘no deal’ is not impossible but it is very, very, very improbable.”
At the regular Tuesday meeting of Cabinet at 10 Downing Street, Mr Davis updated senior ministers on preparations for all possible outcomes from Brexit, ranging from “no deal” to what he said was the most likely result of a full free trade agreement. He told peers the briefing was neither “upbeat or downbeat (but) absolutely factual”.
He told Cabinet that nearly 3,000 posts have already been created across government to support Brexit efforts, including 300 lawyers recruited to the Government legal department in the past year.
Ministers were told that some £662 million has already been committed for Brexit preparations over the course of this Parliament, with more than £250 million additional funding in 2017/18 and a further £412 million for the period up to 2022.
Britain’s former ambassador to Paris, Lord Ricketts, predicted more diplomats would have to be recruited.