Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 January 2020

Boris Johnson tells EU he will not extend Brexit transition

The EU’s top official Ursula von der Leyen warns 11 months is not long enough to agree a full trade deal

RAnti-Brexit protesters hold European flags and wear European flag design berets as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London. AP 
RAnti-Brexit protesters hold European flags and wear European flag design berets as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament in London. AP 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has doubled down on his promise not to extend the UK’s transition period out of the European Union beyond the end of 2020.

Ahead of a meeting on Wednesday with new European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, Mr Johnson said he would not seek a new relationship with the trade bloc based on alignment with existing rules.

The UK is due to exit the EU at 11pm on January 31, at which point an 11-month transition period will come into effect when the UK follows the EU’s rules despite not being a member of the bloc. Its purpose is to allow both sides to work out what their future relationship will be.

Mr Johnson was elected in December on a promise to “get Brexit done” after the exit deadline was extended multiple times. His substantial majority means he should easily get his Brexit withdrawal agreement through parliament by the end of the month.

However, his promise not to extend the transition period has kept fears alive that the UK could still leave without a trade deal. Despite the Conservative Party victory removing some of the uncertainty around whether Brexit would happen or not, the British pound has remained weak against the dollar and the euro.

A Downing Street spokesperson said after the talks between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen: “The PM reiterated that we wanted a broad free trade agreement covering goods and services, and cooperation in other areas.

“The PM was clear that the UK would not extend the Implementation Period beyond 31 December 2020; and that any future partnership must not involve any kind of alignment or (European Court of Justice) jurisdiction. He said the UK would also maintain control of UK fishing waters and our immigration system," the spokesperson added.

Speaking at the London School of Economics (LSE) on Wednesday, Ms von der Leyen warned that a full trade deal would not be achieved in the 11-month time frame. The EU has offered to extend the period until 2022.

She said it would be “basically impossible” to negotiate a comprehensive new agreement by the end of the year and said the EU would be forced to “prioritise” what was important.

Mr Johnson’s office said he “will likely underline that the upcoming negotiations will be based on an ambitious FTA (free trade agreement), not on alignment”, when he meets the European Commission head.

But Ms von der Leyen warned that “without a level playing field” on matters such as the environment, labour, taxation and state aid, the UK would not be able to have the highest quality access to the EU’s single market.

“The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership has to be,” she warned.

However, the former German cabinet minister, who studied at LSE in the 1970s, signalled that the EU wanted a deal that included “zero tariffs” and “zero quotas”.

She said January 31 would be a “tough and emotional day” as the UK prepares to be the first ever member to leave the world’s largest trade bloc.

But added that on February 1, both sides “will still be the best of friends and partners”.

Updated: January 8, 2020 10:58 PM

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