Sputnik: The British prime minister has been urged by economic experts to create a new, world trade deal. How essential is that deal for Britain currently?
David Collins: Well, I think what they are probably referring to is for Britain to aggressively assert its place at the World Trade Organization (WTO) through making deep commitments under the services agreement to open its services market and to commit to very low tariffs — and also to drive the multilateral negotiations. So, I think that's very significant and I think that's probably a role that Britain will assume in the not immediate future — this is more of a long term plan — I think there are very many gains that can be made at the World Trade Organization and the director general of the WTO, Roberto Azevedo, said at one point recently that he was very happy to have the UK back as an independent member, as a champion of free trade. So, I think this is something that the UK can do. Obviously, we know that getting out of the Customs Union was one of the ways that the UK was able to justify Brexit, because of these global trade opportunities.
Sputnik: On the back of what Donald Trump said in his various media interviews during the week he was in the UK, prior to his meeting with President Putin, where he was actually saying: "Look, you know we are up to give the UK a great trade deal; we want to do that." Now, on the back of what you've just said, in terms of the WTO's comments and President Donald Trump's comments, those are very positive things that could come out of Brexit's divorce. But there is still a situation, at the moment, that the country is mired in negotiation and whether Brexit will be delivered. Do you think we should be more positive about what would happen after Brexit or do we still need to be mired in all the nitty-gritty that's encapsulating the negotiations?
David Collins: You're absolutely right, the negotiations have really dragged on and it seems as though there has not been as much progress as we would have liked. One of the reasons to this is the internal political division within the United Kingdom and also, of course, the EU being notoriously difficult to negotiate with because it's such a large bureaucracy. So, I mean of course, I would say that we should be optimistic. I think we'll have a successful Brexit. I would prefer to see one where we get a nice free trade deal with Europe; I think that would be mutually beneficial for the United Kingdom and Europe. But if there is not one, as I've said before: we can live with it; we can deal with a no-deal scenario under World Trade Organization terms.
And there is nothing to say that we can't later get a free trade deal with Europe; we may not have one immediately on Brexit day, but that is not to say that we might not have one in two-three-four-five years. So, I am optimistic, I would like to think that negotiators that we have in the United Kingdom and the EU are going to reach some kind of a compromise, but importantly, it needs to be one that serves the interests of the British people, meaning what they voted for in Brexit, and also which enables the UK to form its own free trade agreements. If we are too tied to Europe then we can't do that. And that's really what President Trump was alluding to when he made that unscripted comment before he visited the UK a couple of weeks ago.
Sputnik: What's your take on the statement made by Dominic Raab about Britain avoiding paying for the divorce bill if no negotiated settlement is agreed? Could that actually happen, from your understanding?
David Collins: There is nothing to say that that wouldn't happen; the UK could refuse to pay the bill, but I don't think that would be supported under international law and I don't think it would be in best interests for the simple reason that a large sum of money that's contained within those 39 billion [pounds] is for services that the UK has already enjoyed and services it will continue to enjoy through the transition period and potentially beyond. So that's fine, if Dominic Raab says: "We are not going to pay that money," then don't expect to get those services. […]
The views and opinions expressed by David Collins are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.