Talks on Any U.K. Exit from EU Would Take Years, Hammond Says

  • Impossible to know what arrangements might be negotiated
  • Government has done no contingency work: Foreign Secretary

Talks on arrangements for Britain to leave the European Union if the country votes against continued membership might take years, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

QuickTake Will Britain Leave the EU?

Speaking at a parliamentary hearing Tuesday on Prime Minister David Cameron’s renegotiation of the U.K.’s membership terms, Hammond said no work has been done to prepare for possible exit talks after a vote to leave the 28-nation bloc. There’s no precedent for a nation withdrawing from the EU.

“It is impossible to know what kind of arrangements could or could not be negotiated,” he told the House of Lords EU Committee in London. “We’re in the realms of pure speculation at that point.”

Cameron and Hammond have expressed hopes that agreement can be reached with other EU leaders next month and the deal can be put to a referendum as early as June. Both have said they want to keep Britain in the EU on reformed terms. Polls of voting intentions have been inconclusive.

If Britain votes to pull out, those who campaigned against EU membership are unlikely to want an arrangement with the bloc on the lines of Norway or Switzerland, both of which contribute to the EU budget, Hammond said.

“This will not be a quick, certainly not an immediate process, and for that reason the government has not found it necessary to do any contingency work in this area,” the foreign secretary told the upper-house lawmakers. “We would expect there to be a period of certainly years during which these discussions would take place and any arrangements that needed to be made could be put in place.”

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