Brexit talks will take 'a lot longer' than two years, Eurogroup head says

 Eurogroup President and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem during a European finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium on Nov 8, 2016.
Eurogroup President and Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem during a European finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium on Nov 8, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (REUTERS) - Negotiations over Britain's departure from the European Union (EU) are very complex and are going to take longer than the scheduled two years, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Wednesday (Nov 16).

Britain has said it will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March next year, starting a 24-month countdown to its departure from the bloc.

"Negotiations are hugely complex... They are going to take a lot longer that two years", Dijsselbloem, the Dutch head of the group of euro zone finance ministers, said at an event in London, adding that both sides were viewing each other with"some suspicion".

A leaked memo published by British media this week said that the British government has no overall strategy for leaving the European Union and splits in Prime Minister Theresa May's cabinet could delay a clear negotiating position for six months. The government dismissed the memo as having no credibility.

Dijsselbloem said many in Europe were also unprepared by Britain's vote in June to leave the bloc, which was not predicted by pollsters.

"People make jokes about the UK not have a Brexit plan, but many Europeans didn't have a plan either," said Dijsselbloem.

He said his "preferred" option would be for Britain not to trigger Article 50, but if this was not possible he would want to maintain as much free trade between the Netherlands and Britain as possible.

Immigration, a major driver behind Britain's vote to leave the EU, has also been driving Dutch voters towards the far-right party of populist Geert Wilders ahead of elections in the Netherlands next year.

Wilders, who is campaigning on a platform that would have the Netherlands close its borders to Muslim immigrants and quit the euro and EU, is polling higher than Prime Minister Mark Rutte's conservative VVD Party and Dijsselbloem's Labour party.

But Dijsselbloem said Dutch law would not allow for a referendum on EU membership similar to Britain's and that the people wouldn't want it anyway.

"The Netherlands will stay in the EU, the public support (for the EU) has increased dramatically after Brexit," he said.