The calendar of negotiations on post-Brexit relations between the UK and the EU is extremely ambitious, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Friday at the end of a European summit in Brussels.
However, Europe will begin working as quickly as possible and stands ready to achieve “the maximum in this short period,” the head of the European executive said after congratulating British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his victory at Thursday’s election.
If Brexit takes effect on 31 January as scheduled in the withdrawal agreement, the negotiations on the future relationship will aim to try and “close a maximum of chapters” before the end of next year, she said, intimating that everything would not be settled by late 2020.
The Brexit transition period, during which Britain will need to keep complying with EU rules while no longer taking part in the organs of the EU, is scheduled to end on 31 December 2020, but could be extended to the end of 2022, although Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party maintained during the electoral campaign that an extension was not on the cards.
Von der Leyen stressed that the two sides would move forward in a spirit of good neighbourliness. She added that, while it was true that Britain would become a third-party state, that would mark the start, not the end, of excellent future ties between neighbours.
The Commission chief stressed the importance of preserving a level playing field, especially with regard to social rights, environmental rights and State assistance for businesses, but also of protecting the rights of the 3.5 million European citizens living in the UK.
The aim, von der Leyen stressed, is an agreement without tariffs, quotas or dumping, one that is not just related to trade but also covers education, transport, fishing, sectoral matters and other issues.
Given the little time left, she proposes to focus on the most urgent policies, i.e. those for which there is no international framework to fall back on, or for which urgent unilateral measures will no longer be possible after 1 January 2021.
The EU negotiation mandate, now under discussion, needs to be ready for 1 February 2020.