LONDON (AP) — Britain’s top Brexit official said Friday that the U.K. would be able to strike new trade deals outside the European Union as soon as it leaves the bloc next year — even though it will remain bound to EU customs and market rules for some two years after 2019.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said that during a post-2019 transition period Britain would be free to negotiate “new trade deals with old friends and new allies around the world.” He said, though, that “they would not enter into force” until the transition period is over, likely by early 2021.
That plan may face resistance from the EU, which says Britain can’t sign new trade deals until it fully leaves the bloc.
Davis is trying to placate pro-Brexit lawmakers in Britain who accuse the government of being too timid in negotiations with the EU. Conservative legislator Jacob Rees-Mogg said Thursday that British negotiators had been “cowed” by the bloc.
British euroskeptics are angry that the U.K. will continue to abide by EU rules during the transition period, which is designed to give government and businesses time to prepare for life outside the bloc.
Speaking at a container port in northeast England, Davis said that the transition would preserve “the existing structure of rules and regulations — including, crucially, on continued access to each other’s markets on current terms.”
Officials from Britain and the EU have begun preliminary talks aimed at agreeing details of the transition period by the end of March. The two sides hope to strike a deal on future relations by the fall, before Britain’s departure in March 2019.