15:06 GMT20 February 2020
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    The UK is set to finally exit the EU on Friday, 31 January, propelling the country into a transition period until the end of December, 2020, during which time the two sides are to face the daunting task of hammering out a post-Brexit trade agreement.

    If post-Brexit Britain hopes to maintain full access to the European Union’s single market, compromises shall be called for on a number of issues, such as consumer rights and environment protection, wrote German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday in a guest article in German weekly Die Zeit.

    In his open letter to the British people Maas touched upon the transition period that will follow the UK’s formal exit from the EU on 31 January, writing:

    “By the end of the year, we need to be clear on the shape of our relationship. So let me say very openly: Yes, we all want zero tariffs and zero trade barriers, but that also means zero dumping and zero unfair competition. Without similar standards to protect our workers, our consumers and the environment, there can be no full access to the largest single market in the world.”

    The German Foreign Minister also warned that the two sides faced a challenging timeline for hammering out a deal, calling it a "Herculean task."

    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, right, and the European Union chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, left, address the media during a joint press conference as part of a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018.
    © AP Photo / Michael Sohn
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, right, and the European Union chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, left, address the media during a joint press conference as part of a meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018.

    As he lists the issues that require negotiation, such as "free trade, fair competition, visa-free travel, work and travel opportunities, university exchanges, protections against terrorism and organised crime, management of international crises," Maas acknowledges that "things haven't always been easy, especially since the Brexit referendum."

    Nevertheless, Heiko Maas shares his hopes for forging a new partnership "as close as possible" between the UK and the EU, adding:

    "It [the relationship] will have to be looser than it was within the EU, but how loose it becomes is up to us. Ultimately, we share this continent and also the same European values."

    New forms of cooperation between the UK and the EU could become instrumental in settling outstanding issues of security and defence, continued the Minister, suggesting that a European Security Council be established, tasked with coordinating positions on European security and ensuring swift response to any international crises that emerge.

    “We are working with France to flesh out this idea as quickly as possible in order to build a foundation for our future relationship,” wrote Maas.

    Wrapping up the article, Maas hinted at the possibility of the UK returning to the European fold.

    “But should this farewell ever turn out to be less final than anticipated, rest assured that we will always have a place for you at our table in Brussels and in our hearts,” said Maas.

    The German Minister also made reference to an iconic Beatles song, “Hello, goodbye”, emphasising that the UK and EU seemed to have resolved the “goodbye”, but Brussels would always have its door open for Britain to come back.

    “So let’s sort out the hello, our future. Separate, but together."

    As Brexit day looms, Britain will cease to be a member of the EU after 11pm on 31 January, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson having set an ambitious 2021 deadline for the acquisition of a trade deal with the EU, insisting that an agreement should be hammered out by the end of December or the UK will leave the transition period effectively on no-deal Brexit terms.

    Brexit supporters in front of Westminster
    © Sputnik / Demond Cureton
    Brexit supporters rally in front of Parliament near a crowd of Remainers in London on 4 November 2019

    While many have expressed concern over the timeline, Johnson has been insisting a deal can be reached "in the time we've got".

    "We've got until the end of the year, but we will be doing things very fast, and in a very friendly, respectful way," Johnson was quoted by the BBC as saying.
    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the weekly question time debate in Parliament in London, Britain January 22, 2020.
    © REUTERS / UK PARLIAMENT/JESSICA TAYLOR
    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the weekly question time debate in Parliament in London, Britain January 22, 2020.

    It was earlier confirmed that on the UK side, trade talks will be led by a 40-person "task force" spearheaded by the PM's Europe adviser David Frost.

    Britain will also look to craft brand-new deals with bigger partners such as the United States, China and Japan. If history is any guide, those could take years, although the US administration is talking up prospects for an agreement in 2020.

     

     

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