The UK's ambassador to the EU told MPs today Brexit negotiations will be unprecedented, but he is confident everybody is prepared to stick to the two-year Article 50 timetable.
Sir Tim Barrow also told the European Scrutiny Committee:
The truth is, nobody has done this sort of negotiation before. A lot of the speculation [about how long it will take] is based on a different sort of negotiation – a free-trade agreement but between countries which are not in convergence and need to find a way to bridge gaps…Our mandate is clear to get on with it, which everyone has bought into, included in the Treaty of two years, so that's what we're going to do.
However, Barrow, along with David Jones, a minister from the Brexit department who was also giving evidence to the MPs, refused to rule out the possibility of the UK stumping up a bill on departure from the EU, despite an earlier report by the House of Lords suggesting a Brexit fee would not be necessary.
Barrow noted his counterparts had taken an interest in research which had arrived at the opposite conclusion to the peers, and added: "There are political and legal-slash-technical [issues] as part of this negotiation."
Barrow and Jones both also said a good Brexit deal for the UK's businesses was likely to be in the interest of all parties involved.
Jones added the negotiations would need to "reflect the fact that there's a strong mutual interest in maintaining good businesses relationships between the UK and the EU".
"After all, when we do leave the European Union, this country will be one of the biggest export markets for EU produced goods and services and we're quite happy that it should remain that way," Jones continued.
Back in December, Michel Barnier, who will be leading negotiations on behalf of the European Commission, said he would like the Brexit negotiations to be done and dusted within 18 months of starting the Article 50 process.
Barnier has also warned the UK could be slapped with a bill for £50bn when it leaves the bloc.
Barrow, who replaced Sir Ivan Rogers after he unexpectedly quit back in January, was speaking to the MPs just hours after it was revealed he had contacted EU council president Donald Tusk today to provide notice that the UK would be triggering Article 50 on 29 March.