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UK plays down report Brexit trade deal could take 10 years

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The UK government downplayed remarks attributed to a British diplomat that it could take 10 years to negotiate a final free-trade deal with the European Union after Brexit - and that even then it could fail.

[LONDON] The UK government downplayed remarks attributed to a British diplomat that it could take 10 years to negotiate a final free-trade deal with the European Union after Brexit - and that even then it could fail.

The BBC reported that Ivan Rogers, Britain's ambassador to the EU, had said most countries in the bloc expect a final free-trade agreement would not be struck until the mid-2020s.

In a private briefing for Prime Minister Theresa May's team in October, Rogers warned that even after a decade of talks, the deal could still be scuppered by any one of the EU's 27 other national parliaments, which would have the power to ratify or reject it, according to the BBC report on Thursday.

"The comments of Ivan Rogers are taking words from interlocutors and this does not necessarily define how long it will take to create a trade deal," UK Trade Minister Mark Garnier told lawmakers in Parliament's lower house.

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"It is very, very difficult to establish how long any trade deal will take."

The 10-year warning echoes comments from EU diplomats made earlier this year. Mr Rogers has an important role in the Brexit process and is an experienced diplomat who worked on David Cameron's attempted renegotiation of the UK's membership before the referendum.

The BBC also reported that Rogers said most EU countries believed the UK would get a free-trade accord rather than retain membership of the single market. Mrs May's office and her ministers have publicly expressed confidence that a deal will be possible in two years.

Mrs May's office did not deny the BBC report, but said Mr Rogers was simply recounting the views of other EU countries rather than outlining his own or the British government's position.

"Like all ambassadors, part of his role is to report the views of others," Mrs May's office said in a statement to the BBC.

Brexit Secretary David Davis told lawmakers on Wednesday that he still believed it's possible to agree to the final "end game" of Brexit within the two years that will be available for talks after May triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

But he accepted in public for the first time that a transition period may be needed during the "implementation phase" of the final trading arrangement.

"We have to try to stick to the time table," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters in Brussels as he arrived for a summit of EU leaders.

"The whole Brexit negotiations will be so very complex."

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