Britain’s Brexit transition period should last until the end of 2020, the EU’s chief negotiator has said.
The European Commission has approved guidelines covering Brussels’ position on the transition, which have been drawn up by Michel Barnier.
These would see Britain observe the bloc’s rules and regulations following the Brexit date in March 2019 while having no influence over them.
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During a news conference in Brussels, Mr Barnier repeated the commission’s stance that this must include accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and allowing the free movement of people.
Mr Barnier said “time is going to be of the essence” if both sides were to agree on the transition and the shape of the future relationship between Britain and the EU before Brexit takes full effect.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said the “implementation period” should last for around two years, potentially taking it up to the spring of 2021.
But the EU has agreed that the best date for it to end is on 31 December 2020, which is when the EU’s multi-year budget ends. This means a transition period of around 21 months.
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Mr Barnier indicated he is hoping to reach an agreement on the future relationship between the UK and EU by next October to coincide with a new treaty containing the terms of agreement on Britain’s withdrawal and the transition.
The comments make clear that he sees the document falling short of a full trade deal, which is something Mrs May is pushing the EU to agree quickly.
Guidelines covering the future relationship will be presented to the leaders of the remaining 27 states at a European Council summit in March, Mr Barnier said.
He added: “We will be working on a new very important document that needs to be finalised by October 2018, parallel to the Article 50 treaty – a political document which will accompany the withdrawal agreement and which should clearly stipulate and outline the shape of our future relationship.”
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In downbeat comments that foreshadowed what Brussels sees as some of the likely difficulties ahead, the EU’s top negotiator said:
:: “Logically speaking”, Britain will no longer be covered by around 750 international agreements, negotiated by the EU while it was a member, once Brexit takes effect
:: Any treaties covering London’s future relationship will need to be ratified by national and regional parliaments, raising the prospect of an EU legislature vetoing a free trade deal if they think it disadvantages them
:: Decisions on the transition would be “made for the 27, unanimously, by consensus”, which appears to indicate Spain will have a veto on any elements of the implementation period that covers Gibraltar.
:: New arrangements will have to be made to “consult” Britain when annual fish quotas are set as part of the Common Fisheries Policy, as the UK will play no part in setting them post-Brexit
:: Negotiations on the transition will commence once the EU’s General Affairs Council has met on 29 January
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On the broader question of what kind of trade deal will be possible, Mr Barnier restated his view that the PM’s Brexit plan – which includes leaving the bloc’s single market and customs union – means Brussels can only offer an agreement similar to ones negotiated with Canada, South Korea and Japan.
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Brexit Secretary David Davis is on record as saying he wants Britain’s free trade deal to be “Canada plus plus” and include financial services.
Downing Street has said on Tuesday the PM will demand a “significantly more ambitious” deal than what the EU has in place with Canada.