Britain may have to endure a period of political crisis before a compromise can be found between Brexit hardliners and the need to protect the economy, former global trade chief Pascal Lamy told AFP on Tuesday. 
‘The more Britons move away from the EU the more it will cost them,’ Lamy, a former director-general of the World Trade Organization, said in an interview.
‘The compromise between moving away enough to satisfy Brexit supporters but not so much that the British economy pays the price is not available at the moment.
‘There needs to be work within the government and perhaps even a period of political crisis, before such a compromise can appear,’ said the 70-year-old, who also served as a European trade commissioner.
Lamy said his experience in world trade negotiations in the past had shown him that they were ‘horribly complex’ and usually take longer than people think.
‘That’s why they last a crazily long time,’ Lamy told AFP, cautioning also that Britain leaving the European Union was ‘like taking an egg out of an omelette’.
Lamy also said that, while leaving the EU would free Britain up to negotiate its own trade deals, the scale of its market compared to the EU could hinder it.
‘In trade negotiations, you weigh up scale of your market. You would make an effort to access a market because it is a big market but if it is a small market you would not pay the same price,’ he said.
He pointed out too that Britain will ‘need to rearm’ in terms of trade negotiating expertise as this has been handled by European officials currently.
‘Expertise is time and money,’ he said.
The issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, and British-ruled Northern Ireland after Brexit, has proved particularly complex in UK-EU negotiations so far.
‘Whatever happens, if Britain leaves the single market and the customs union there will have to be a border somewhere, either between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland or between the island of Ireland and mainland Britain,’ Lamy said.
He said that on the Irish issue ‘there is no solution on the table’.
Lamy also cast doubt on the British government’s stated aim of negotiating a withdrawal agreement and a deal on the future UK-EU partnership before Britain leaves as expected next year.
‘Under these conditions, the date of March 29, 2019 is far too close for the terms of an agreement that will govern future relations between the European Union and Britain to be possible,’ he said.