Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission’s new president, has said she is “very worried” about the current timetable set by the British government to negotiate the UK’s post-EU relationship.
The German politician, who became Commission head on 1 December 2019, warned that there are many other subjects which the economic bloc and the UK must resolve, above and beyond negotiating a free trade agreement.
Speaking to the French daily Les Echos, von der Layen said, “we should seriously ask ourselves if all these negotiations are possible in such a short time”.
“I think it would be reasonable to take stock mid-year and, if necessary, agree on an extension of the transition period.”
Technically, the UK and the EU have a two year “transition period” to negotiate what their relationship will look like after Brexit actually happens. During this “transition period” the relationship between the UK and EU will remain largely as-is.
However, on 20 December 2019, 358 MPs voted in favour of Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal agreement, which included a legal prohibition against the “transition period” extending beyond December 2020. This means that negotiators will only have 11 months to secure an agreement from the scheduled Brexit date of 31 January 2020.
When asked about what might happen if the UK sought to distance itself from EU standards, she replied “equality is of the utmost importance” and that the benefits of the “single market" are inextricably linked to those “common principles and values”. If that cannot be achieved the Commission head said that the UK and EU will have to agree on what customs duties and other “barriers” will have to be implemented. The discussion, which was part of a wide-ranging interview, was published by Les Echos on 27 December 2019.
While Johnson and the Tory Party campaigned on the pledge to “Get Brexit done”, some business figures reacted poorly to what they felt was an artificially short deadline pushed by the prime minister. The Tory Party won this month's election with a total of 364 seats (out of 650) in parliament.