Theresa May has insisted she believes it will be possible to agree the shape of Britain’s new trade relationship with the European Union within the two-year timeframe for Brexit negotiations.
The UK Prime Minister’s comment came after Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel cast doubt on the possibility of completing the “laborious endeavour” in such a short period.
Mr Gabriel instead suggested both sides may have to be content with getting as far as they can within two years, rather than sealing the deal within that timeframe.
Speaking during a visit to Jordan, Mrs May said it was “sensible and pragmatic” to ensure that individuals and businesses have a clear idea of what the future arrangements will be by the time the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.
But she stopped short of claiming that a trade deal could be signed within that time. European Council president Donald Tusk made clear in his draft guidelines for negotiations, released on Friday, that EU rules insist that a deal can be signed only after the UK has left.
Mrs May told Sky News: “There’s obviously a legal situation in terms of how the EU can conduct trade negotiations. I’m clear that by the point at which we leave the EU, it’s right that everybody should know what the future arrangements, the future relationship, that future partnership between us and the European Union will be.
“That’s the sensible thing, it’s the pragmatic way to look at this, and I believe that’s what we will do.”
Asked if she believed this can be done within two years, she replied: “Yes.”