AFP – The EU’s top official told Britain yesterday that it could lose its open access to the European market if it refused to extend post-Brexit partnership talks beyond 2020.
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Ursula von der Leyen’s warning to Prime Minister Boris Johnson came ahead of their first meeting in her capacity as European Commission president – and with Brexit just three weeks away.
Both sides are eager to move on from the more than three years of tumult and acrimony that followed Britain’s decision in a 2016 referendum to end its decades-long membership of the bloc.
Johnson secured a comfortable majority in parliament in a December election and is virtually assured that his divorce deal will finally be approved by Jan 31.
But that leaves just 11 months until the end of 2020 for London and Brussels to agree a new economic partnership covering everything from trade to data protection rules.
“There will be tough talks ahead and each side will do what is best for them,” von der Leyen said in a keynote speech at the London School of Economics.
Downing Street said late on Tuesday that Johnson would tell von der Leyen that “there will be no extension” to the deadline.
Britain will keep following EU rules and paying its membership fees during the transition talks.
“Having waited for over three years to get Brexit done, both British and EU citizens rightly expect negotiations on an ambitious free trade agreement to conclude on time,” Downing Street said.
Von der Leyen countered yesterday that this meant Britain would probably lose unfettered access to its closest trading partner after 2020.
“With every choice comes a consequence. With every decision comes a trade-off,” she said.
“The more divergence there is the more distant the partnership has to be.
“And without an extension of the transition period beyond 2020, you cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of our new partnership,” she cautioned. “We will have to prioritise.”