The European Union and Britain will struggle to seal an agreement on trade and other aspects of their future ties after Brexit next year and should consider extending the negotiations beyond 2020, a top EU official has said in an interview.
The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on January 31.
If it does, it will be the first time a country leaves the world’s biggest trading bloc.
Negotiations between the remaining members and the British government on future trade, fisheries, education and transport relations can only begin after that date and according to the Withdrawal Agreement that Boris Johnson’s government secured with the EU must conclude by the end of 2020.
Johnson, despite warnings that it won’t be enough time, insists there will be no extension and has ruled out negotiations past 2020 in his Withdrawal Agreement legislation.
“I am very concerned about how little time we have,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the French business newspaper Les Echos.
“It seems to me that, on both sides, we should seriously consider whether the negotiations are feasible in such a short time.”
“I think it would be reasonable to take stock in the middle of the year and, if necessary, agree on an extension to the transition period,” Ms von der Leyen said.
As the leader of the executive commission, Ms von der Leyen heads the EU institution responsible for Brexit talks and negotiating trade deals on behalf of member countries.
Brexit cliff edge warning
Such trade pacts routinely take years to complete, and businesses fear that the UK could face a new “no-deal” Brexit scenario at the start of 2021 if questions about whether tariff-free trade with the country’s biggest trading partner remain unanswered.
Mr Martin said he is worried about the British Government’s legislative plans to make it illegal to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020, even if a trade deal is not ready by then.
“That is unnecessary. I think it’s dangerous,” he said.
“And because you’re back into your cliff-edge at the end of the year, potentially, and most experts on trade believe it’s not possible to negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement between the UK and Europe in the short time, you know, in one year.”
Mr Johnson won a solid parliamentary majority in the general election earlier this month, which helped him push a Brexit withdrawal deal through Parliament with very little scrutiny.
The Brexit bill contained amendments that bar the Government from extending the transition period beyond 2020.
Under Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty rule book, which governs how countries leave the bloc, any new extension to the departure process must be agreed by June 30 2020.