European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged that there was “very little time” to strike a deal with the UK and stressed her intention to “make the most of the short period” remaining.
The Commission President was speaking at a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the negotiations between Europe and the United Kingdom on the terms of their future relationship.
Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who won last week’s elections by a landslide, has promised not to entertain any extension of the transition period set in the agreement negotiated between Brussels and London. It runs out in December 2020, which leaves the two sides less than a year to strike a deal on EU-UK ties after the divorce, particularly trade relations.
European parliamentarians have repeatedly warned, in recent months, that such a tight deadline would be hard to meet, especially when one considers the scope of the exchanges to be regulated and the years it took to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada. And it is precisely the CETA that Boris Johnson wants to draw upon to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU, according to his spokesperson.
Von der Leyen made clear that the EU would make the most of the time remaining. “On 1 February we will be ready to propose a mandate for the negotiations,” she said on Wednesday. “In case we cannot conclude an agreement by the end of 2020, we will face again a cliff-edge situation” that will “clearly harm our interests but it will impact the U.K. more,” she added.
The Commission’s Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, admitted that time was one of the factors that could “limit the ambition” that the EU would like to see reflected in the texts on future relations with the U.K.
It was still possible, up to 30 June 2020, to agree on extending the transition period, he said, but that would require a will by both parties to do so.
Without an extension, it would not be possible to do everything, but “we will do everything we possibly can,” he said. “If we wish to regulate the new relationship in all its dimensions, we will need to continue to work and negotiate beyond the end of the transition.”