Michel Barnier’s top aide has warned negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal will be even ‘more complicated’ than the torturous wrangling over the terms of the UK’s divorce from Brussels.
Stefaan De Rynck, the EU chief Brexit negotiator’s most senior adviser, said ‘there should be no misunderstanding’ about the complexity of what lies ahead as the two sides prepare to hammer out the terms of their future partnership.
He also said the British government needs a ‘dose of realism’ on what can be achieved by the end of 2020.
His comments will be seen as a direct challenge to Boris Johnson‘s Brexit strategy with the PM adamant that a complete trade deal can be agreed by December this year.
The intervention came after Parliament finally agreed to the PM’s Brexit deal as the European Union Withdrawal Agreement Bill was passed by MPs and peers last night.
The so-called WAB – the legislation needed to deliver an orderly Brexit at the end of this month – will now receive royal assent in the coming days and become law.
Mr Johnson said the passage of the legislation meant the UK could now ‘move forwards’.
Michel Barnier’s top aide Stefaan De Rynck (pictured left) has warned Brexit trade talks will be ‘more complicated’ than discussions on the terms of the UK’s split from Brussels. He also expressed concerns about the amount of time available to agree a deal
The UK will formally leave the EU on January 31 at 11pm when it will enter into a standstill transition period.
That transition period will last until December and has been designed to give Britain and Brussels time to work out a trade deal.
The EU does not believe a complete deal can be finalised in such a short space of time and is in favour of an extension.
But Mr Johnson is insistent the end of the transition period must be viewed as a hard deadline.
In comments reported by Politico, Mr De Rynck told an event in London last night: ‘There should be no misunderstanding of the fact that the next phase will be more complicated to negotiate than the Withdrawal Agreement.
‘The construction of the text for the Withdrawal Agreement wasn’t always easy – but compared to the construction of the text for the future relationship agreement, we are talking about two different kinds of exercises.
‘The limitation of time must lead to some dose of realism on what can be achieved.’
Mr De Rynck said when the EU and UK originally agreed on the terms of the transition period it was envisaged it would last for 21 months.
But the UK parliament’s decision to repeatedly refuse to agree to a Brexit deal means the time available for trade talks is now down to less than 11 months.
He said the EU thought ’21 months was a rather short transition period in terms of the negotiations that need to be done’ as he cast doubt on the ability to resolve each and every issue by the close of 2020.
He then firmly directed the blame for the tight deadline at Downing Street as he said it was a decision of the ‘UK government to limit the time we have available’.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman today hit back and said: ‘The EU agreed with the UK that they would reach a comprehensive future partnership agreement with us by the end of 2020 and we expect to achieve that.
‘The EU made a formal commitment to get this completed by December 2020 and we expect that to happen.’
Boris Johnson, pictured in London on January 20, is adamant the UK and the EU can agree the full terms of a future partnership by the end of this year
Trade talks between the UK and the EU are expected to begin at the end of February or the start of March now that Britain is set to actually leave the bloc on January 31.
Responding to his Brexit deal being rubber-stamped by Parliament last night, Mr Johnson said: ‘Parliament has passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, meaning we will leave the EU on 31 January and move forwards as one United Kingdom.
‘At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.
‘Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future – with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country.’
- Britain will be 'at top of the queue' for US trade deal after Brexit
- Britain will be 'top of queue' for US trade deal post Brexit says Trump aide
- 'Deliver Brexit and STOP CORBYN' - Boris Johnson makes BOLD demands ahead of Brexit votes
- Trump aide: UK will be 'front of queue for US trade deal after Brexit'
- UK could demand £9bn back from EU instead of paying for Brexit divorce bill
- Trump Lays Out Hopes of Big US-UK Trade Deal
- Trump sees 'huge opportunity' for trade deal if Brexit impasse solved
- John Bolton claims UK is 'top of the queue' for US trade deal after Brexit, despite providing no other details
- As the EU agrees to push back Brexit date, May says she's still confident UK will eventually leave
- After EU agrees to push back Brexit date, May says she's still confident UK will eventually leave