EU chief warns of ‘consequences’ of Johnson’s refusal to extend transition period

Ursula von der Leyen. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA.

Ursula von der Leyen. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the free trade deal between the UK and the EU may not grant the 'highest quality access' if Boris Johnson refuses to allow flexibility on the end date of the transition period.

In a press conference at her alma mater the London School of Economics, von der Leyen said that trade talks will be "tough" and that Johnson's insistence on leaving at the end of 2020 put limits on the kind of deal that can be struck.

The timetable set by Johnson to get a trade deal agreed and ratified by the end of the year is "very, very tight", she said in a statement before her meeting with the PM.

"Without an extension of the transition period beyond 2020, you cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of our new partnership. We will have to prioritise," she said.

She also said that the EU is ready to negotiate a "truly ambitious and comprehensive" partnership. But, she added: "The truth is that our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before."

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"With every decision comes a trade-off. Without the free movement of people, you cannot have the free movement of capital, goods and services.

"Without a level playing field on environment, labour, taxation and state aid, you cannot have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market."

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She also stressed the importance for both sides of building a "comprehensive security partnership" to counter cross-border threats from terrorism to cyber attacks.

"The threat of terrorism is real and we have to share the necessary information and intelligence between Europe and the UK to stop terrorists from crossing borders and attacking our way of life," she said.

Von der Leyen reiterated the EU's commitment to upholding the integrity of the single market and the customs union.

"There can be no compromise on this," she said. "But we are ready to design a new partnership with zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping. A partnership that goes well beyond trade and is unprecedented in scope."

Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, who will join the talks along with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier, said he was confident an agreement could be reached by the end of year.

"I think there is scope for a very positive and optimistic approach to the trade deal," he told Sky News.

"Both sides have committed to securing a trade deal by the end of December 2020. That is in the Political Declaration."

The Liberal Democrats' Brexit spokesperson Alistair Carmichael took a dimmer view.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the hard deadline Boris Johnson has set for negotiating the future relationship between the EU and UK is unrealistic," he said.

"Von der Leyen's comments highlight that the Tory government must be open to extending the transition period beyond the end of this year to ensure we do not leave with a half-baked deal or crash out without any deal at all.

"A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for our NHS, jobs and the environment.

"The government's own reports have detailed how devastating a no-deal scenario would be. It is unacceptable that the Tories have refused to take it off the table.

"Liberal Democrats will continue to fight to stop a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020. It is essential that the transition period can be extended to prevent this devastating prospect."

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