EU chief says UK risks more in post-Brexit trade talks

Muscat Daily - - BUSINESS -

Stras­bourg, France - Euro­pean Com­mis­sion chief Ur­sula von der Leyen warned on Wednesday that fail­ing to rapidly ne­go­ti­ate a new trade deal af­ter Brexit would hurt Bri­tain more than it would the EU.

“The timetable ahead of us is ex­tremely chal­leng­ing,” she told the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in Stras­bourg.

“In case we can­not con­clude an agree­ment by the end of 2020, we will face again a cliff edge. This would clearly harm our in­ter­ests but it will im­pact more the UK than us.”

Euroscep­tic Bri­tish MEPs laughed at the warn­ing, but it re­flects a pes­simistic mood among Brus­sels of­fi­cials.

“Time is lim­ited and it won’t be pos­si­ble to do ev­ery­thing, but we’ll do ev­ery­thing we can. We can’t do it all but we will give it our all,” EU Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier said.

“Af­ter the tran­si­tion pe­riod we’ll have to con­tinue to work with the Bri­tish and to ne­go­ti­ate,” he said.

Bri­tain is due to leave the Euro­pean Union on Jan­uary 31, but will re­main in a tran­si­tional ar­range­ment un­til the end of the year while ne­go­tia­tors de­bate fu­ture trade ties.

Un­der the with­drawal agree­ment which Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son has agreed with Europe but not yet pushed through par­lia­ment, the UK could ask for a one or two year ex­ten­sion.

But John­son, who last week won a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity in the UK gen­eral elec­tion, in­sists he will not ask for more time and is pre­par­ing leg­is­la­tion to for­bid such a move.

In this case, ne­go­tia­tors will only have 11 months to con­clude a trade agree­ment, a task that of­fi­cials on both sides have warned is ex­tremely am­bi­tious.

And if 2020 comes to an end with no deal con­cluded, Bri­tain will sever ties with the huge EU sin­gle mar­ket with no fol­low-on deal to pro­tect jobs and trade on both sides.

“We will or­gan­ise these ne­go­ti­a­tions to make the most out of the short pe­riod. On Fe­bru­ary 1 we will be ready to pro­pose a man­date for the ne­go­ti­a­tions,” von der Leyen said.

“I hope... that we will have an un­prece­dented part­ner­ship. This is not the end of some­thing. It is the be­gin­ning of new re­la­tions be­tween neigh­bours and I want us to be­come good neigh­bours with our friends in the UK. Long live Europe.”

The new Bri­tish par­lia­ment, dom­i­nated by John­son’s Con­ser­va­tive Party, is ex­pected to pass his with­drawal bill quickly, but the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment will gave to rat­ify it on Jan­uary 29.

This is widely ex­pected to be a for­mal­ity, but on Tues­day the chair­man of its Brexit steer­ing group, former Bel­gian pre­mier Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt, said it would not be a rub­ber stamp.

“I get thou­sands of mails from UK cit­i­zens liv­ing in the EU and EU cit­i­zens liv­ing in the UK who are pan­ick­ing and want­ing to know their sta­tus,” he said.

“That will have to be re­solved be­fore we ap­prove the exit treaty,” he said.


Euro­pean Com­mis­sion pres­i­dent Ur­sula von der Leyen ad­dresses the EU par­lia­ment on Wednesday

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