LONDON • The British government rejected a report yesterday that it could take up to 10 years to agree on a new trade deal with the European Union (EU) after Brexit, a move that could leave businesses in limbo.
The rejection comes as EU leaders gathered yesterday for a summit in Brussels where they would discuss Brexit over dinner without inviting British Prime Minister Theresa May.
But Mrs May said she welcomed the EU leaders to do so, setting a conciliatory tone before she updates them on Britain's preparations for leaving the bloc.
She called for a "smooth and orderly" Brexit, and her spokesman insisted a new trading arrangement will be negotiated within the current two-year timeframe.
Britain's ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, has advised ministers that the other 27 member states believe a trade deal might not be done until the early to mid-2020s, the BBC reported.
In a meeting in October, he also warned that even once it was agreed, the new deal might be rejected as each EU country's parliament would have to ratify it.
"It is not the view of Sir Ivan Rogers, it is not the view of the government," Mrs May's spokesman said.
"This is the ambassador reflecting the views of others which have been put to him, which is a role that all ambassadors carry out."
Mrs May has said she will trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon treaty, giving formal notification of Britain's intention to leave the bloc, by the end of March.
European Council president Donald Tusk, who would chair the summit yesterday, said in a tweet that Mrs May would update the leaders "on Brexit preparations".
But the summit is focused on other matters, including curbing migration from Africa and on building up defences against Russia as Mr Donald Trump prepares to enter the White House with an agenda that many Europeans fear may dilute the US military commitment to protect them from Moscow.
"I welcome the fact that the other leaders will be meeting to discuss Brexit tonight as we are going to invoke Article 50, trigger the negotiations by the end of March next year," Mrs May told reporters.
"It's right that the other leaders prepare for those negotiations as we have been preparing. We will be leaving the EU. We want that to be as smooth and as orderly a process as possible."
The leaders will end the dinner with a statement saying they are ready to start talks with London and negotiate swiftly.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE