British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to negotiate post-Brexit trade arrangements with the European Union by the end of this year is unrealistic, making an extension or partial agreement necessary, the European Commission president warned on Wednesday.
“Without an extension of the transition period beyond 2020, you cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of our new partnership,” Ursula von der Leyen said before holding talks with Johnson in London.
“We will have to prioritise,” von der Leyen said in a speech at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Von der Leyen was accompanied by the EU’s lead Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, in her first official meeting with Johnson since his UK election victory in December.
The two sides “looked at the year ahead [and] negotiating a new partnership,” Barnier tweeted after the talks.
He said future relations between Brussels and London “will not be as close as now,” echoing comments in von der Leyen’s speech.
“Time is short. A new clock is ticking,” Barnier wrote, adding that Brussels will focus on implementing Britain’s withdrawal agreement and preparing negotiations on future relations.
Von der Leyen said the start of Britain’s formal withdrawal from the EU on January 31 will be “a tough and emotional day.”
She added that London and Brussels will remain “the best of friends and partners” after Brexit.
Following the discussions at Number 10, Downing Street described the talks as “positive” but Johnson insisted he will not extend the transition period.
“The PM reiterated that we wanted a broad free trade agreement covering goods and services, and co-operation in other areas,” he spokesman said.
“The PM was clear that the UK would not extend the implementation period beyond December 31 2020.”
In Zagreb, Croatia’s premier backed von der Leyen’s assessment of the timetable. “This [Brexit] is clearly an unprecedented situation,” said Andrej Plenkovic, the head of the most recent addition to the club of 28 EU states.
Plenkovic was speaking ahead of Thursday’s opening ceremony for Croatia taking over the EU’s rotating presidency, which von der Leyen is scheduled to attend.
The EU should “approach negotiations in a realistic manner,” Plenkovic said. “That means not to put on a plate too many dossiers that we might not be able to deal with in the adequate time.”