The UK does not have enough time to negotiate a free trade agreement which will give farmers good access to the EU market after Brexit, according to Food and Drink Federation (FDF) boss Ian Wright.
Mr Wright made the remarks when he was giving evidence to MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee last week.
In March 2017, the UK triggered its right to leave the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, but the rules only allow two years for a new relationship to be agreed.
This makes March 29, 2019 ‘Brexit day’, but the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has already said a deal will have to be concluded by October 2018 to give the European Parliament, 27 other EU member states and the UK time to ratify it.
Though optimistic about the Government’s ability to deliver an agreement, Mr Wright said: “I think we are almost out of time to get what we need and I would like to have more conversation about the implications of this.
“It is not just for us, actually. I do not know if any of you saw the October meeting of the Council [the European governing body made up of heads of all member states].
“The Lithuanian Prime Minister came out of the Council and had a microphone shoved in her face and she said ‘we have run out of time, we need a pause’.
“I think there is a reflection on all sides that what we are about to go into may not be optimum if we are time constrained. That would be my biggest concern.”
Under Article 50 rules, the time to negotiate a deal can be extended, but only if the European council, in agreement with the UK, unanimously decides this is necessary.
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