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Brexit; The New Chapter: the ‘impossible’ trade deal

“No new partnership will bring back the benefits of being part of the same union but we have the duty to seek the best for the British and for the European people in a post-Brexit world. We will always love you and we will never be far.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

With Brexit now happening today (Friday January 31, 2020), European diplomats are already hard at work for the next phase: negotiations to hammer out a future with Britain after its EU divorce. In the words of EU negotiator Michel Barnier, during the next phase of Brexit, Brussels and London will “have to rebuild everything”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems reinvigorated after a clear electoral victory in December, but intense talks lie ahead.

(image - Kevan James)

Here are the main battle lines for the coming weeks:

No extension

Throughout his campaign, Johnson said he would seal a trade deal by 31 December, the deadline set by the EU-UK divorce agreement. London could request an extension of one or two more years if it decided to do so before summer, but Johnson insists it will not. This marked the EU’s first reality check — only reluctantly accepted — and Brussels officials no longer expect Johnson to ask for a delay. That leaves only eight months, from late February to October, to reach an agreement and allow time for ratification.

“It’s an impossible task,” warned one European diplomat. “By the end of the year, we could get the skeleton of a trade agreement plus something on internal and foreign security, but there is no guarantee,” the diplomat added. Talks can begin as soon as EU ministers agree their joint mandate on 25 February.