Prospect of no-deal Brexit ‘highly unlikely’, says former commissioner

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The prospect of a no-deal Brexit is “highly unlikely” according to a former European Commissioner.

Karel De Gucht, who was European Commissioner for Trade between 2010 and 2014, has said that he believes that at the very least a “very vague deal” will be agreed before exit day.

Mr De Gucht, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said: “In the end there will be a deal, whether this is a solution is quite a different question.

“I believe it will be a very vague deal and immediately afterwards start what is exactly in the agreement. Politically I think it’s highly unlikely that this process will end with a no-deal on 29 March.”

Mr De Gucht said the transition period may have to be extended as what the UK was asking for in negotiations was “contradictory”.

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Mr De Gucht said: “What the UK’s asking for is in fact contradictory, they want to be out of the European Union, out of the internal market, no customs union but nevertheless they would like that the situation after 29 March is largely similar to the present situation.”

The Belgian said that these demands make the negotiation “extremely difficult”, he added: “It will certainly take more than the time that has been envisaged now.”

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World Trade Organisation director general Roberto Azevedo has said a no-deal Brexit would not “be the end of the world” but added it would not be “a walk in the park either”.

Mr Azevedo, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said the impacts of no agreement would “be large or smaller depending on the sector”.

He also challenged the view that the UK could begin trading seamlessly on WTO terms after March 29, he said: “It will be very ambitious to have that kind of outcome.

“It is very unlikely that you’re going to have 100% agreed outcome for all WTO members between now and March.”

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Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington has defended Chancellor Philip Hammond after he was accused of launching another “dodgy Project Fear” with warnings that a no-deal could cause major economic damage.

Brexit-backing Tories reacted furiously after Mr Hammond pointed to disputed provisional analysis, released earlier this year, which claimed GDP could fall and borrowing could be around £80 billion a year higher by 2033/34 under a no-deal scenario.

Mr Lidington, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said the data was “nothing new”, adding: “This is provisional analysis that the Treasury published back in January this year and I think all Philip was doing was simply referring back to that in response to a senior member of Parliament.”

The minister went on to say Mr Hammond was “absolutely committed” to the objectives that the Government set out in the Chequers agreement.

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Mr Lidington later said that a no-deal was “not a desirable objective” and said he was “optimistic” the UK could achieve a deal.

When asked about International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s assessment that the chance of a no-deal Brexit was 60/40, Mr Lidington responded: “I am not a betting man. I remain both determined and optimistic about this.”

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Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said no options should be “off the table” when considering the Government’s final Brexit deal.

Mr McDonnell, speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, said: “It’s not Labour Party policy to have another referendum, we respect the past referendum but we recognise that when the Government comes forward with its proposals, if it does I’m worried we might be in a no-deal situation, but when the Government comes forward with its proposals, Parliament will decide the next step.

“So we’re not saying any options (are) off the table when that debate happens.”