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EU chief warns UK must compromise to get Brexit trade deal

Von der Leyen said Johnson's end-of-2020 deadline for negotiations makes it ``basically impossible'' to strike a comprehensive new agreement in time.


LONDON — The president of the European Commission warned Britain that it won’t get the “highest quality access” to the European Union’s market after Brexit unless it makes major concessions.

In a friendly but frank message to the UK, Ursula von der Leyen said negotiating a new UK-EU trade deal will be tough. She also said the end-of-2020 deadline that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed on negotiations makes it “basically impossible” to strike a comprehensive new agreement in time.

Von der Leyen, who took over as head of the EU’s executive branch on Dec. 1, is visiting Johnson at 10 Downing Street in London later Wednesday for the first time since the British leader’s election victory last month.

Johnson’s Conservatives won a substantial parliamentary majority in Britain’s Dec. 12 election, giving him the power to end more than three years of wrangling over Brexit and take the UK out of the EU on Jan. 31. It will be the first nation to ever leave the bloc.

Britain’s departure will be followed by a transition period in which the UK-EU relationship will remain largely unchanged while the two sides negotiate a new trade arrangement.

Johnson says the UK is seeking a free trade deal, but doesn’t want to agree to keep EU rules and standards. Britain wants to be free to diverge from EU regulations in order to strike new trade deals around the world.

Downing St. said when Johnson meets von der Leyen, he “will likely underline that the upcoming negotiations will be based on an ambitious FTA (free trade agreement), not on alignment.”

That could cause problems. Speaking at the London School of Economics before her meeting with Johnson, von der Leyen warned that “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.”

“With every choice comes a consequence. With every decision comes a trade-off,” she warned.

International trade agreements typically take years to complete, but Johnson has ruled out extending the post-Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020, although the EU has offered to prolong it until 2022. Downing Street said “both British and EU citizens rightly expect negotiations on an ambitious free trade agreement to conclude on time.”

Von der Leyen said the time frame was “very, very tight” and made it “basically impossible” to negotiate anything but a skeleton deal.

“The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership has to be,” she said. “And 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 prioritize.”

The German EU chief _ who studied in Britain in the 1970s and has proclaimed herself a friend and fan of Britain – did have some encouraging words for Johnson. She said the bloc was ready to strike a tariff-free and quota-free trade deal with Britain, and “a partnership that goes well beyond trade and is unprecedented in scope.”

She said the new relationship could encompass “everything from climate action to data protection, fisheries to energy, transport to space, financial services to security. And we are ready to work day and night to get as much of this done within the time frame we have.”

 

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