Top EU official says UK should prepare itself for further Brexit delay

Ursula von der Leyen in the European parliament. Photograph: European parliament.

Ursula von der Leyen in the European parliament. Photograph: European parliament. - Credit: Archant

A top EU official has claimed that the UK should prepare itself for further Brexit delay beyond 2020.

Negotiations between the remaining members and the British government on future trade, fisheries, education and transport relations can only begin after the UK has ratified the Withdrawal Agreement and must conclude by the end of 2020.

"I am very concerned about how little time we have," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the French business newspaper Les Echos.

"It seems to me that, on both sides, we should seriously consider whether the negotiations are feasible in such a short time."

"I think it would be reasonable to take stock in the middle of the year and, if necessary, agree on an extension to the transition period," Von der Leyen said.

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As the leader of the executive commission, Von der Leyen heads the EU institution responsible for Brexit talks and negotiating trade deals on behalf of member countries.

Such trade pacts routinely take years to complete, and businesses fear that the UK could face a new "no-deal" Brexit scenario at the start of 2021 if questions about whether tariff-free trade with the country's biggest trading partner remain unanswered.

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But prime minister Boris Johnson has insisted he would not agree to any delays.

Following the general election Johnson had enough votes to ensure his Withdrawal Agreement bill passed through parliament at the second reading.

The Brexit bill contained amendments that bar the government from extending the transition period beyond 2020.

Under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty rule book, which governs how countries leave the bloc, any new extension to the departure process must be agreed by June 30 2020.

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