EU leaders have scrapped plans to try and finalise a trade deal with the UK by the end of 2020, in a major blow to Boris Johnson’s claims that he can “get Brexit done”.
An early draft of the EU’s negotiating guidelines seen by The Independent had said that “negotiations should be organised in a way that makes the best possible use of the limited time available for negotiation and ratification by the end of the transition”.
But a new leaked version of the European Council conclusions, due to be published by leaders at a summit in Brussels next week, has had the stipulation to complete the deal fast completely removed.
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The Independent understands the promise was scrapped at the behest of member states like France, who are wary of playing into Boris Johnson’s narrative that a deal can be done quickly, when in reality it is likely to take years.
The prime minister claimed again this week that he would “get Brexit done” by the end of January, despite the prospect of years of talks ahead
The EU is set to spell out its plans for the next phase of talks when national leaders meet in the Belgian capital on the day after the UK’s general election. They will there sign off the leaked conclusions, which are currently being drawn up by diplomats ahead of their arrival.
As well as scrapping pledge to move quickly to finalise an agreement before the end of the transition, the new text also stipulates the EU expects a regulatory “level playing field” to be established with the UK as the condition for a deal – a likely sticking point in talks.
Paragraph three of the early draft seen by The Independent stated: “To this end the European Council invites the Commission to submit to the Council a draft comprehensive mandate for a future relationship with the UK immediately after its withdrawal. It invites the General Affairs Council to adopt swiftly the relevant decisions and negotiating mandate. Negotiations should be organised in a way that makes the best possible use of the limited time available for negotiation and ratification by the end of the transition.”
In the new, changed version it simply says: “To this end the European Council invites the Commission to submit to the Council a draft comprehensive mandate for a future relationship with the UK immediately after its withdrawal. It invites the General Affairs Council to adopt swiftly the relevant decisions and negotiating mandate.”
MEPs said the leak showed talks would just “drag on and on”.
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“The chances of a no deal Brexit at the end of 2020 are increasing dramatically,” Lib Dem MEP Luisa Porritt told The Independent.
“The EU has dropped any commitment to agreeing a trade deal with the UK in only 11 months because unlike Boris Johnson, other European leaders are being honest about how long a free trade negotiation takes.”
Downing Street has confirmed that the prime minister will not attend the two-day leaders meeting in Brussels on 12 and 13 December because he will be focusing on the general election.
Mr Johnson had told a press conference on Wednesday: “We have a deal that will enable us as a Conservative government to get Brexit done by the end of January and that will allow us to get on with the things that we really care about … there is a fantastic future ahead of us if we can get Brexit done and move forward!”