Brexit tension leads U.K. to seek deeper ties with Canada

As the U.K. works to finalize its split from the European Union, it's about to ramp up efforts to expand its presence in Canada.

Details of divorce still unresolved in lead-up to leaders' summit

British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing tough questions about Brexit as deadlines approach to push the deal through. (Jack Taylor/Associated Press)

As the United Kingdom works to finalize its split from the European Union, it's about to ramp up efforts to expand its footprint in Canada.​

Brexit has hit another roadblock as the European Union (EU) and U.K. attempt to work out exactly what their future relationship will look like. Both sides are trying to come up with an outline of a post-Brexit relationship in time for a leaders' summit set for Oct. 17-18 in order to stay on track for the March 29, 2019 leave date — exactly two years after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the departure process.

Because of the hurdles involved — such as coming up with a new trade agreement and new arrangements for Ireland — Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, the U.K.'s high commissioner to Canada, said now is the time to focus on Canada.

She told CBC Radio's The House this week that her job here has "never been more important." She said the U.K. has taken countries like Canada "for granted" in the past.

Now, London is working to widen the bridge with Canada through appointing new diplomats and pursuing new investments, d'Allegeershecque said.

The EU is pitching a "Canada plus plus plus" trading relationship to the U.K., offering it economic, cultural and security ties similar to what Canada shares with the 27 European Union countries now.

Statistics show that the EU has been quicker than Canada to take advantage of the year-old Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) it signed with Ottawa.

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Though that pact has not yet been fully ratified, imports from the EU increased more than 12 per cent between Oct. 2017 and July 2018. Canadian exports to the EU, meanwhile, were actually lower in some recent months than they were prior to CETA, and the overall growth in Canadian exports to Europe during the Oct. 2017-July 2018 period amounted to less than one per cent.

D'Allegeershecque said she thinks the October summit is almost certain to pass without an agreement, which jeopardizes the goal of a March 2019 break-up.

"I think it would be messy, without a doubt," she said, adding experts across the continent are now considering the prospect of missing the March deadline.

That deadline can only be extended if all 28 EU members agree.


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