Sunday 12 January 2020 11:23 am

Ireland and ex-top EU official disagree on UK trade deal timetable

Ireland’s foreign minister has claimed a UK-EU trade deal will take more than a year to complete, putting him at odds with the European Commission’s former top civil servant. 

Boris Johnson has set a deadline of 31 December to thrash out a deal on the future trading agreement with the EU, after Britain leaves the trading bloc later this month.

Read more: Johnson’s Brexit bill passes House of Commons without fanfare

In comparison, the EU-Canada trade deal took seven years to complete.


Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said this morning that the EU “will not be rushed” on coming to terms on the agreement.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “When people talk about an agreement they only talk about trade, but there are so many other things – there’s fishing, there’s data, there’s so many other things.

“Boris Johnson has set a very ambitious timetable to get this done, he’s even put it into british law.

“In my view, it’s probably going to take longer than a year, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Coveney’s comments come after new European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said last week it was “basically impossible” to come to a deal within Johnson’s timetable.

She cited the complexity of the many different areas involved as a major barrier to striking a deal in such a short time.

However, Brussels’ former top civil servant takes a differing view.


Speaking to the Sunday Times, former secretary general to the European Commission Martin Selmayr said: “If the UK is as well prepared as the commission, then you can do an agreement by the end of this year.”

A major split in the positions of the two parties will come in terms of regulatory alignment.

Johnson has reportedly made clear in cabinet meetings that the UK will seek to diverge from EU rules and not stay in full alignment as Brussels would prefer.

Some of the key areas where the sides will battle it out will include rules on fishing, financial services and security.

Alongside this will be negotiations on future trade between the EU and the UK and if any tariffs, duties and quotas will exist on the sale of goods.

Former international trade secretary, and current Tory backbencher, Liam Fox said today it was “clear” that there would not be frictionless trade between the UK and the EU.

“The government has set out that they want to minimise [the effects of] that, but they want Britain to determine our regulations,” he said.

“Therefore, the concept of what’s called dynamic alignment – i.e. we automatically follow EU rules – is out the window, as it should be, as it is incompatible with Brexit itself.”

Security minister Brandon Lewis told the BBC today that the government would get a deal completed by December.

“The UK government and the European Union are committed to getting a comprehensive agreement across the board,” he said.

Read more: Can the UK pull of a Brexit trade deal? The key dates for 2020 after the Brexit deal is passed

“I think we can do it, I disagree with Simon [Coveney] just because both parties in that agreement are committed to doing it.

“We are a country that has a known pattern of working with the EU, therefore getting a holistic agreement in the next 12 months is achievable.”

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