Brexit warning: Rishi Sunak panics EU leaders with promise to complete deal on December 31
Last month, the UK and European Union opened talks on a post-Brexit free trade agreement, with the first round of negotiations taking place in Brussels. A team led by Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost traveled to the Belgian capital to begin crunch talks with representatives led by EU counterpart Michel Barnier. Further face-to-face talks have been postponed as Europe focuses on the current coronavirus pandemic, with the negotiating pair instead holding virtual talks today to discuss next week’s Brexit negotiation round.
The hold-up has increased pressure on the UK to extend the transition period beyond this year. The UK has until June 30 to request a delay.
But Rishi Sunak has echoed warnings from the Prime Minister that a deal must be completed this year, and the transition period will not be extended beyond December 31.
The Chancellor made this clear at the Downing Street press conference with the media last night, Politico has reported.
But the increasingly stubborn stance in light of the EU now having to fight the spread of coronavirus and putting Brexit talks on hold has left officials throughout the bloc stunned.
We have left the European Union – that has happened. We are just negotiating the final terms of our trading arrangements. That work is carrying on.
One EU official told Politico: “Let’s be honest: the political leadership is focused on something else now. If your house is on fire, that’s your first and sole priority.”
Last week, Mr Sunak dismissed growing calls transition period to be extended beyond the end of 2020.
He said: “We have left the European Union – that has happened.
“We are just negotiating the final terms of our trading arrangements. That work is carrying on.”
Despite the current situation being on “talks about talks”, the Chancellor continued to insist: “We remain committed to the timeline for concluding those talks.”
Britain officially left the EU on January 31 following several months of delays.
Mr Johnson has since continued to demand a free trade agreement be struck with Brussels before the end of the transition period – and that stance has not changed, despite Europe struggling to manage the coronavirus outbreak.
Leading EU figureheads, including Mr Barnier and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have urged the Prime Minister to reconsider.
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But last week, the UK Government continued to insist Mr Johnson had “no intention of changing” the end of the transition period.
A spokeswoman said: “We remain fully committed to the negotiations and discussions with the Commission are continuing.
“Chief negotiators, David Frost and Michel Barnier, will speak next week to agree a timetable for the negotiations in April and May.”
Speaking ahead of talks with Mr Johnson at 10 Downing Street earlier this year, Ms von der Leyen warned it would be “impossible” to reach a comprehensive trade deal by the end of 2020.
She insisted the EU was “ready to negotiate a truly ambitions partnership with UK” but warned of “tough” talks ahead.
The European Commission President also warned that without an extension of the transition period “you cannot expect to agree every single aspect of our new partnership”.
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