In all Brexit scenarios the UK Government will want to negotiate a future relations agreement with the EU. This is true if the UK exits the EU with or without a deal. These negotiations cannot begin until the UK has left the EU and is a ‘third country’.

A future relationship is likely to be based on some combination of an Association Agreement (AA) and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). This Insight sets out the data on how long it takes to put such agreements with the EU in place.

What is an Association Agreement?

AAs create a framework for close economic and political co-operation between the EU and third countries. They can be very broad and varied in purpose, scope and content, with trade as one element. AAs include co-operation in areas of mutual interest, such as security and defence, the environment, science and research.

DCFTAs offer access to the Single Market in specific areas, based on regulatory alignment with the EU.

The Government and the EU have already suggested a future relations agreement might take the form of an AA. This could be combined with a DCFTA.

But how long would it take to negotiate such an Agreement? And how long might it take for the Agreement to be ratified and enter into force, given that it would almost certainly have to be approved by both the EU and all the other 27 Member States separately?

The UK and EU regulatory alignment

The UK would start from a position of almost full compliance with EU law. Other countries must gradually align their laws with those of the EU in the areas covered by the Agreement, so the UK would have a head start. This should mean a much faster process for the UK, but it’s not a given.

And while the UK would be in a better position than all the other AA countries in terms of legislative approximation, political issues might prove more difficult to resolve.

It can take over six years for an AA to enter into force

The table below shows the length of time taken from the Council’s adoption of negotiating directives for 18 Association Agreements up to their entry into force or provisional application.

It took on average 6 years and 9 months for an Association Agreement to enter fully into force and 6 years and 5 months for its provisional application.

AA country Adoption of negotiating mandate Signature of AA Entry into force of AA Approx. how long?
Algeria 10/6/1996 22/4/2002 1/9/2005 9 yrs 3 mths
Chile 13/9/1999 (Negotiations began on new trade part 16/11/2017) 18/11/02   1/3/2005   5 yrs 6 mths  
Egypt 19/12/1994 25/6/2001 1/6/2004 9 yrs 6 mths
Georgia 10/5/2010 27/6/2014 1/7/2016 6 yrs 2 mths
Israel 20/12/1993 20/11/1995 1/6/2000 6 yrs 6 mths
Jordan 12/6/1995 24/11/1997 1/5/2002 6 yrs 11 mths
Lebanon 2/10/1995 17/6/2002 1/4/2006 10 yrs 6 mths
Moldova 15/6/2009 (DCFTA negotiations started 2/2012) 27/6/2014 1/7/2016 7 yrs 1 mth
Morocco 6/12/1993 (DCFTA negotiations started 1/3/2013; on hold since April 2014) 26/2/1996 1/3/2000 6 yrs 4 mths
Palestine (interim) 1/10/1996 24/2/1997 1/7/1997 8 mths
Tunisia 20/12/1993 (DCFTA negotiations started 12/10/2013) 17/5/1995 1/3/1998 4 yrs 3 mths
Costa Rica 24/4/2007 29/6/2012 Provisionally applied since 1/10/2013 6 yrs 6 mths
El Salvador 24/4/2007 29/6/2012 Provisionally applied since 1/10/2013 6 yrs 6 mths
Guatemala 24/4/2007 29/6/2012 Provisionally applied since 1/12/2013 6 yrs 8 mths
Honduras 24/4/2007 29/6/2012 Provisionally applied since 1/8/2013 6 yrs 4 mths
Nicaragua 24/4/2007 29/6/2012 Provisionally applied since 1/8/2013 6 yrs 4 mths
Panama 24/4/2007 29/6/2012 Provisionally applied since 1/8/2013 6 yrs 4 mths
Ukraine 5/3/2007 (DCFTA negotiations started February 2008) 29/5/2014 AA entered fully into force 1/9/2017. (DCFTA provisionally applied from 1/1/2016; political and cooperation parts provisionally applied from November 2014). 10 yrs 6 mths

A transition period would be useful for negotiations

A no-deal Brexit means no transition period. Leaving without a deal could mean a gap of several years between the UK leaving the EU and an AA coming into force.

Even with an orderly exit and the transition period in the Withdrawal Agreement in place, there could still be a gap. The Government could try and negotiate a longer transition period after exit day beyond the current agreed maximum of 31 December 2022. This would allow more time for the negotiation, ratification and entry into force of a future relations Agreement. But it’s not clear whether there would be either EU or UK parliamentary support for a lengthy transition period.

About the author: Vaughne Miller is head of the International Affairs and Defence research section at the House of Commons Library.

Image: The port of Dover / Allen Watkin / CC BY-SA 2.0