But WTO director general Roberto Azevedo said WTO rules are normally introduced after a transition period to get both sides ready for the new trading laws. He believes there “is a pretty good chance” of the UK and EU striking a Brexit deal before the end of the transition period. Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Azevedo said: “In these circumstances, the less disruption the better, the less turbulence the better.
“The less turbulence is the closest to what you were before. So in my view, if you can maintain the degree of integration and relationship that you had before Brexit it is a less dramatic situation, of course, than if you had to go to WTO terms – which it is not a catastrophe.”
On WTO terms, he added: “It only covers a number of adjustments and those adjustments can be painful particularly for some sectors.
“Overall, I think there is a pretty good chance that an agreement can be reached. Again, in my view the less changes the better.”
But he admitted that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, WTO members “will be looking very carefully” at any moves by the UK to introduce a “light touch” approach to goods entering the country from the EU after the transition period.
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On Friday, the UK Government said it is exploring whether to adopt fewer checks on imports from the EU for around six-months.
Mr Azevedo said: “You have transitional periods in most of these trade deals. So, you may have a period where that ‘light touch’ may be part of the transitional agreement and other members of the WTO may take that as something acceptable.
“It may, however, be done in a way that challenges the rules of the WTO a little bit more and then members, I think, will be looking very carefully.
“But it is not a no-go by definition.”
On Friday, Michael Gove backtracked on plans to introduce full border checks with the EU when the Brexit transition period ends and defied warnings that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” not to request an extension.
The Cabinet Office minister formally told the EU on Friday that the UK would not ask for a delay despite concerns the departure would compound the economic chaos inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, in scrapping plans to immediately introduce full import controls on EU goods in the new year, Mr Gove said Britain would now phase in changes over six months so businesses hampered by Covid-19 can have the “time to adjust”.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said “the moment for extension has now passed” despite a stark warning from the first ministers of Scotland and Wales that the move would lead to “avoidable” business closures and redundancies.
The move came as the UK economy contracted by more than a fifth in the first full month of lockdown, as shops and factories closed and workers were sent home to slow the virus’s spread.
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The Office for National Statistics said that economic activity was down by 20.4% in April, the largest drop in a single month since records began in 1997, and worse than many experts were forecasting.
After Mr Gove met with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, the Cabinet Office said a “flexible and pragmatic approach” would now see border checks between Britain and the EU introduced in three stages.
“We have informed the EU today that we will not extend the transition period. The moment for extension has now passed,” Mr Gove said.
“At the end of this year, we will control our own laws and borders, which is why we are able to take the sovereign decision to introduce arrangements in a way that gives businesses impacted by coronavirus time to adjust.”
Mr Sefcovic told a briefing in Brussels that the EU “remains open to such an extension”, but said Mr Gove had been “very clear, unequivocal” that the UK will not seek one “so we take this decision as a definitive one”.