Brussels, 13 December 2019 (dpa/MIA) – EU leaders prepared the ground on Friday for trade negotiations to start quickly once Britain leaves the bloc, following British parliamentary elections in which Prime Minister Boris Johnson won the majority needed to complete Brexit by Jan. 31.
However, EU leaders warned that it would be hard to secure a deal on the future relationship in the 11-month window envisaged by Johnson, and said they would insist on guarantees to prevent Britain from undercutting EU standards on issues such as labor laws and the environment.
Johnson’s Conservative Party won by a landslide in Thursday’s snap polls, after he campaigned on the promise to “get Brexit done.” He called the election after parliament failed to swiftly ratify a Brexit divorce deal negotiated with Brussels.
European Council President Charles Michel said he now expects the process to conclude quickly.
“We expect as soon as possible the vote by the British parliament on the Withdrawal Agreement. It’s important to have the clarity as soon as possible,” Michel said.
“The excuse that there is no majority in London no longer exists,” added Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.
Britons voted to leave the European Union in a referendum in June 2016. Since then, the country has been fiercely divided on the issue, and Brexit has twice been delayed amid disagreement in parliament on what shape it should take.
Negotiations on the future relationship—covering trade but also a swathe of other issues ranging from citizens’ rights to security cooperation—can only start once Britain has left the EU.
Johnson has insisted that these talks should be wrapped up by the end of 2020, ruling out the extension of a transitional period during which EU rules continue to apply to Britain.
This is “enormously ambitious,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar noted – a sentiment shared by several other leaders.
Due to the tight time-frame, the EU will prioritize those issues where there is the risk of an “economic cliff-edge” at the end of 2020, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
“There will be a sequencing; there will be more emphasis on a certain ranking,” she noted. The priority issues are those where “we have neither an international framework to fall back on nor the possibility to take unilateral contingency measures.”
The talks will be overseen by EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, with EU leaders underlining the “unity” of their approach in a joint summit statement.
“The European Union, we are ready. We have decided what our priorities are,” Michel said.