'No time for overall deal if transition is 11 months'

The EU's negotiator says 11 months is an 'improbable' timeframe for a trade and future relationship negotiation

If the UK refuses to extend the Brexit transition period beyond 2020 it will be impossible to come to a comprehensive agreement on trade and all other areas of the future relationship, says the EU’s chief negotiator.

If the UK insists on only 11 months for negotiations after a Brexit on January 31 – as Boris Johnson has said he would – there would be a race to agree on an absolute "vital minimum for trade and security" or otherwise a “cliff edge” with the UK trading on WTO terms, says Michel Barnier in an audio recording leaked yesterday by The Independent on the day before the general election.

Mr Barnier does not mention if, in what he calls an 'improbable timeframe' of 11 months, there would be time to consider other matters such as any safeguards for Britons coming to live in EU countries after the transition period and for second home owners and holidaymakers, on matters like pension uprating for expatriates, healthcare for old-age pensioners and holidaymakers, or any preferential immigration rules for Britons moving to the EU. Safeguards agreed in the deal for existing expatriates in France and other EU countries would, however, remain in place during and after the transition period.

Other matters to be resolved would also include, for example, a new agreement on air travel rules, decisions on Britain's future participation in Erasmus+ and what level of British university fees would be paid by EU citizens and by young members of expatriate British families going to study in the UK.

Mr Barnier, recently appointed again to lead the next phase of Brexit negotiations if the UK leaves, says in a speech to an unidentified private audience: “As far as this agreement goes we won’t do everything in 11 months. We’ll do as much as we can. That’s all I can say. We won’t do everything, we’ll do as much as we can.”

Referring to the rules agreed in the Brexit ‘deal’ concluded with the Johnson government, Mr Barnier says that by June 2020, the UK and EU would have to agree mutually if they want an extension of the transition period, up to 2022 at the latest.

“It’s possible, a year or two, to 2022 or 2021 – we’ll decide together with the British, but not any later, if the [Withdrawal Agreement] treaty is to be respected,” he said.

“At that point we will have certainty. If there’s no extension then we’ll have a few more months to manage to conclude an agreement on the minimum that is vital economically and for security, or otherwise to get ready for the cliff edge.

“Either we’ll have a trade deal or we’ll be in the WTO framework.

“But there are other areas where we can take contingency measures to gain more time.

“So we’re going to do everything we can, if the British wish it – we all have to take responsibility – to arrive at a minimal trade agreement in the very, very short time allowed.”

He is then heard to add: “Eleven months is an improbable timeframe for an overall negotiation.

“We couldn’t do everything; we will do as much as we can. Notably, what I call the vital minimum to establish a relationship with the UK, if that is the time allowed.”

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