FCO strategy chief dubs no-deal Brexit ‘highly unlikely’

Written by Jim Dunton on 2 November 2017 in News
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Theo Rycroft also plays down significance of Oliver Robbins’ move to Cabinet Office

Theo Rycroft with Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe Credit: Twitter/@UKandEU

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s head of Brexit strategy has said he believes there is a minimal chance of UK dropping out of the EU without a deal.

Theo Rycroft’s words come after a period of mounting speculation that the “no deal” scenario was becoming a more realistic prospect, following the EU’s verdict that insufficient progress had been made with initial negotiations for the future EU-UK trading and security relationship to be broached.

Speaking at an event hosted by academic project UK in a Changing Europe, Rycroft insisted that cross-government preparations for all Brexit options were under way, but that breakdown in relations between Brussels and London was thought to be only a remote possibility.


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“On planning, we approach these negotiations anticipating success and we do not want or expect to leave without a deal,” he said.

“But of course we are planning for all potential outcomes, including the highly unlikely scenario in which no mutually satisfactory agreement can be reached.

“This is the responsible thing to do, and that’s what we’re doing across the whole of government.”

Echoing comments made to MPs on the Treasury Select Committee last week by former UK ambassador to the European Union Sir Ivan Rogers, Rycroft said “no deal” proponents were not always envisaging the same situation.

“It’s become a slightly totemic phrase and it covers a huge range of different possible eventualities,” he said.

Rogers had observed that “no deal” advocates, such as former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, favoured a succession of individual deals on issues of importance rather than the absence of new agreements between the UK and the European Union.

At the UK in a Changing Europe event, Rycroft also referred to September’s surprise move of Department for Exiting the European Union perm sec Oliver Robbins to the Cabinet Office, seen by some as evidence of a rift between Brexit secretary David Davis and Robbins.

Rycroft insisted the move – officially described as designed to “strengthen cross government co-ordination of the next phase of negotiations with the European Union” – was not evidence that the previous arrangements had not been working well.

“That change has not had a huge impact on the way that the system is being run,” he said. 

“I think it’s of less significance than people have attributed to it.

“It just shows the level of interest [in the Brexit process] that when an official slightly changes their job title and doesn’t move particularly far in organisational terms it’s rolling news on the bottom of the BBC website.”

Elsewhere at the event, Henry Newman – a former special adviser to both Francis MAude and Michael Gove – suggested that businesses would be well advised to undertake contingency planning to account for a range of trade scenarios for when the Article 50 period comes to an end in March 2019.

Newman, who is now director of the Open Europe think tank, said UK businesses were unlikely to get a 12-months-in-advance steer on how transitional arrangements will work.

“By the nature of ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ negotiations, we won’t know for certain until almost the end of the Article 50 process,” he said.

Business groups – and HM Revenue and Customs – have argued that the first quarter of next year is the latest that industry can wait for solid details on transitional arrangements before potentially unproductive contingency planning must begin.

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