Britain may be forced to push back its withdrawal from the E.U. by as much as a year, according to media reports. The government is said to be unready to negotiate the terms of Brexit and may now delay the formal notification for the two-year process until the end of 2017, despite Prime Minister Theresa May’s signals that it would happen early next year. Here’s why:
The government departments overseeing Brexit and global trade face a daunting series of tasks: not just legally disentangling the U.K. from the E.U. but creating a new free-trade agreement with the E.U. from scratch and re-establishing links with 163 other nations of the World Trade Organization. Tens of thousands of tariffs, quotas, subsidies and other arrangements stand to be renegotiated.
The U.K. currently employs as few as 25 trade negotiators, compared with an estimated 600 in the E.U.’s trade department. The government says it will hire 300 experts by the end of 2016, but that may not be enough. International-trade lawyer Miriam González Durántez has warned that the U.K. would need at least 500 to complete the marathon task.
Trade talks cannot begin until Britain formally triggers Article 50 of the E.U. treaty, making Brexit official, and pressure is growing for May to name a date. Delays could run into French and German elections due to happen next year, complicating the process yet further.
This appears in the August 29, 2016 issue of TIME.