EU trade chief Phil Hogan predicts Prime Minister Boris Johnson will break his pledge not to extend the Brexit “transition” period and the exit proper beyond the promised deadline.
Hogan has insisted that Johnson will agree to keep Britain in the bloc’s single market and customs union beyond the end of 2020. Picking up on the originally broken pledge to deliver Brexit by 31 October, he noted:
“In the past, we saw the way the prime minister promised to die in the ditch rather than extend the deadline for Brexit, only for him to do just that". He speculated that “over the timeline for the future relationship", “Prime Minister Johnson won’t die in the ditch either", as he believes.
The existing withdrawal treaty stipulates the possibility of extending the process for up to two years, which essentially means that the UK will continue to accept freedom of movement and foot membership bills during the stint.
Johnson, however, has ruled this out and even begun the process of making and further extensions illegal – something that Hogan described as “a stunt".
“At first sight this seems very odd indeed. From our point of view it is important that we move from stunt to substance", he said arguing that it would be helpful “if the focus was on content rather than timetables".
He suggested that now the political deadlock in Westminster has been broken via a snap general election, the next Brexit stage “needs to be based on realism and hard facts".
“Any 'having our cake and eat it' rhetoric will not fly. Both sides need to proceed calmly and coherently", the Irish trade chief, who is supposed to lead the post-withdrawal trade talks alongside the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier argued.
The comments come days after EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she had “serious concerns” about Mr Johnson's timeframe of working out trade arrangements by the end of next year. Either side might request an extension to the agreement, as to whether that will happen must be finalised by 1 July next year.
During the aforementioned “transition period” the relationship between the UK and EU is expected to remain largely as-is.
On 20 December 2019, 358 MPs voted in favour of Boris Johnson’s EU withdrawal agreement, which included a provision that bars the “transition period” from 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.