U.K. Foreign Office Raises Brexit Uncertainty, Lawmakers Say

  • Europe minister accused of witholding testimony from panel
  • Business needs to know plan if there’s no deal in two years

Britain’s Foreign Office is adding to uncertainty over the country’s future outside the European Union and should provide more information to reassure businesses and investors, a panel of lawmakers said Thursday.

Crispin Blunt, chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, accused Europe Minister Alan Duncan of being unconvincing and unclear in his refusal to testify to an inquiry into the implications of no deal being reached within the two-year window allowed for EU exit negotiations.

“It is hard to believe that the government is not considering the legal and technical issues and consequences of leaving the EU with no withdrawal agreement in place,” Blunt wrote to Duncan. “The government owes its analysis not just to Parliament, but to the wider public: there is a strong public interest in reducing uncertainty as far as possible, not least for businesses making investment decisions in the U.K.”

The failure of David Cameron’s government to plan for a vote to leave the EU in June’s referendum was “gross negligence” that added to uncertainty, the committee said in a report published earlier this year. If the administration of his successor, Theresa May, is failing to plan for there being no deal in 2019 it is “at least as negligent,” Blunt wrote.

May has pledged to trigger the Brexit process by the end of March but little is known about the kind of relationship with the EU she wants. The lack of clarity risks causing financial-services companies to relocate jobs and operations in preparation for a “worst-case” outcome to the talks, the House of Lords EU Committee said in a separate report also published on Thursday.

Duncan wrote to the committee on Dec. 5, saying he would not be able to give evidence because the negotiations with the EU haven’t started yet.

‘High Importance’

“I can assure the committee that the topic of this inquiry is of high importance to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and colleagues across government,” he said in his letter to the committee. “Since negotiations are not yet under way, the government is not currently in a position to provide written evidence to the committee.”

The panel met to consider its response to Duncan’s refusal and published the exchange of letters as it sought to persuade the Foreign Office to provide the information it needs for its inquiry.

“There is every possibility of ‘no deal’ once the two-year negotiating period ends. Business, in particular, needs to know what that might look like,” Blunt said in an e-mailed statement. “Sir Alan Duncan’s argument as to why no response is currently forthcoming from the FCO is unconvincing and runs counter to the duty of a responsible government to provide clarity where possible. We are asking him to reconsider.”

The Foreign Office said in a statement that it’s “not going to give a running commentary on every twist and turn of these upcoming negotiations: It’s not in our national interest and won’t help us get the best deal for Britain. But when there are further things to say, we will keep people informed.”

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