14:15 GMT19 February 2020
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    After years of talk, debate, and delays, the UK is set to become the first nation to leave the EU on Friday. However, the transition period, during which London and Brussels are to agree on new game rules for trade, security, and other fields, will last until 31 December 2020, meaning the Brexit saga is still not over.

    Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has issued a sobering message to those celebrating the end of the Brexit chaos, saying that “we're only at halftime” in the EU-UK divorce. Before meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who is visiting Dublin, the head of the Irish government has warned London that team EU, which they wish to leave, is stronger than the British “runaway”.

    “The European Union is a union of 27 member states. The UK is only one country. And we have a population and a market of 450 million people. The UK, it's about 60 (million). So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team?'' he said, as cited by the BBC.

    Following the meeting, however, Varadkar noted that the talks during the transition period, when the parties are to strike trade and security deals, do not need to be a contest and could result in a “mutually beneficial” agreement. He also pointed to the time span for the negotiations, saying that reaching an agreement could be difficult. Varadkar further warned that an extra risk is that the new rules may need parliamentary approval from all the other 27 EU member states.

    The Irish PM also indicated that the trade deal is especially significant for his country – the only EU nation that shares a land border with the UK, which is also one of Ireland’s top trading partners.

    “We need to get down to business very quickly trying to get that trade deal, which is absolutely essential for the Irish economy, as well as of course for Britain's as well,'' said Varadkar.

    Barnier echoed his grim warning, saying that it "cannot be business as usual” if the parties fail to strike a deal before the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

    "We are to face a risk of a cliff edge, in particular for trade”, the EU negotiator said.

    The talks are set to begin no earlier than March after EU leaders agree on a mandate. At the same time, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is against any further delays of the transition period, has repeatedly claimed that he and his team are willing to move to WTO rules, should negotiations go awry. While the EU insists that the UK should “level [the] playing field'' and further comply with the bloc’s regulations, London reportedly does not want to agree to follow them in exchange for trade without customs checks.

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    WTO, trade deal, Brexit, Ireland, EU, UK
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