You are here: Home » International » News » Politics
Business Standard

Britain won't be ready for 2020 Brexit, will take longer: EU officials

EU diplomats said any extension would be agreed only after Britain formally leaves in March 2019

Reuters  |  Brussels 

brexit, UK, Britain, EU

Senior figures have told Reuters will not be ready to make a full break from the by the end of 2020 as transition plans foresee and the bloc is bracing for a much longer goodbye.

The may be thinking on similar lines.

Several diplomats and officials familiar with the discussions said a host of unresolved issues, including the Irish border, and British in-fighting over what kind of future trade relationship to ask for left many convinced the transition will end up being longer.

Two senior officials said British negotiators appeared to be sounding out other governments' attitudes to an extension to the 21-month transition currently on offer, although others said they believed British still aims to have a free trade deal negotiated to start in January 2021.

May has publicly denied looking for extra time. The says it is willing to be "flexible", though and other governments have been clear they oppose staying in the half-way house for years, fearing the arrangement would become permanent and a basis for a messy, long-term compromise.

As formal talks on the transition got under way in this week, diplomats said any extension would be agreed only after formally leaves in March 2019, so that would remain under pressure to conclude a trade deal or face its economy going off a "cliff edge" from 2021.


"Nobody believes in transition until the end of 2020," one person said. "But we don't want to propose an extension straight away - that is a leverage we have over in the talks."

They acknowledge May cannot say she might prolong a transition which, by binding to rules and budgets without having a say on them, is deeply unpopular with supporters: "To ask for an extension now would be to upset the Brexiteers who want out swiftly and at any cost."

Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator who will brief the media on Friday on the outcome of this week's talks, has said he believes can negotiate a free trade deal in under three years. and British officials note that while an deal with, say, took seven years, has regulations in line with the now, substantially cutting the need for change.

Concluding a transition deal by March was supposed to be an easy part of negotiations after months spent last year cajoling into committing to pay tens of billions of euros in outstanding commitments to and hammering out a deal to give lifetime rights to 3 million citizens in

However, after talking with May and Secretary in on Monday, Barnier told envoys that a number of issues were proving difficult.

People briefed by Barnier said these included London's rejection of giving lifetime rights to citizens who arrive after and until the end of 2020, its demand to avoid new laws it dislikes, more say on fishing quotas and opposition to a penalty mechanism to restrict single market access.

If the transition deal is not in place by a March 22-23 summit, that could delay the expected April start of talks on the future trade deal. And among the thorniest issues in efforts to agree an outline trade vision this year will be settling how trade can remain "frictionless" on the Irish land border.

The two sides agreed a fudge in December that promised to keep regulations the same in as in EU-member Ireland, as well as between and the British mainland while giving a right to diverge from the

"We don't see a way to square this circle, there is no solution. We are pushing to propose legal text on that but they don't want to engage, which shows how big a problem politically it is for London," said one

British negotiators are due to update Barnier on their vision for London's future ties with the in on Friday, but there is little hope they would offer the clarity the bloc has been demanding for weeks now.

Should no new message arrive from London, Barnier is due to present states later this month with a legal text on Britain's withdrawal, which would include the EU's current plan of offering a broad free-trade agreement but not a bespoke and creative special solution May has been urging.

First Published: Thu, February 08 2018. 22:33 IST