Brexit: UK-EU trade deal by end of July 'impossible' say senior MEPs

18 June 2020, 20:51

Boris Johnson&squot;s demands have been dismissed as "impossible" by senior MEPs
Boris Johnson's demands have been dismissed as "impossible" by senior MEPs. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson's call for agreeing on a post-Brexit trade deal by the end of July is "unacceptable" and "impossible", say senior MEPs.

The UK was accused of trying to cherry-pick the benefits of European Union membership, despite the fact it will no longer be part of the bloc.

On Monday, Mr Johnson called on Brussels to finalise a Brexit deal by the end of next month, urging the EU to "put a tiger in the tank" and step up efforts to secure an agreement.

So far, major stumbling blocks have included fishing rights and the "level playing field", a demand made by the EU to ensure fair competition.

However, it would keep the UK closely tied to the bloc's standards on workers' rights, the environment and state subsidies.

As it stands, the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020.

MEPs are urging the EU to ramp up plans for a No Deal scenario on 1 January.

Senior figures on both sides of the negotiation table say the latest date a deal must be reached by in order for it to be ratified in time is at the end of October.

David McAllister, who leads the European Parliament's UK Coordination Group, said: "Let's put some tiger in the tank but we need to know in which direction the car should drive.

"I'm still hoping the car, in the end, will drive towards an agreement."

The German MEP, an ally of chancellor Angela Merkel, said: "We hope for the best but, in parallel, we need to step up our no-deal preparations.

"The European Parliament will not agree to a deal at any cost."

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Kati Piri, a member of the coordination group, said: "Beyond a commendable use of idioms, the UK Prime Minister failed to explain how he wants to reach a deal in six weeks, so we are very much looking forward to those details."

The Dutch MEP said it was "quite impossible to reach a comprehensive agreement in six weeks."

She said talks were at a "stalemate" due to "very ideological opposite views".

"We can't agree on the scope of the agreement and we can't agree on the legal framework of that agreement," she said.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove suggested to MPs at Westminster that the end of October was the real deadline for a deal.

"We don't have a date per se, pencilled in, but it is the case that if we haven't secured significant progress by October, then it will be difficult," he told the Northern Ireland Select Committee.

"I would hope that we would have clarity beforehand, but it becomes increasingly difficult if we are not on a trajectory towards an agreement, increasingly difficult to ensure that that free trade agreement could be concluded if we haven't secured agreement, as I say, by October."

The EU's ambassador to the UK also said the end of October was the deadline for a deal.

"If you do a countdown and if you count the need for ratification time, it means that we need to have a deal by, let's say, the end of October, which is in exactly four months," Joao Vale de Almeida said.

Asked if an outline deal could be done by July, Mr Vale de Almeida said: "I think that speed is good. We need to accelerate.

"We need to use every week and every month to try to find a deal.

"But when you drive a car and you speed too much, you can risk falling out of the road, so you need to be careful.

"Because the purpose is not to go fast, the purpose is to get to the destination."

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As the transition period approaches, Politico reported that a "shock and awe" campaign would be launched to prepare the public for the changes on January 1.

The plan forms part of a deal worth up to £4.5 million struck with media agency MullenLowe London, the website said.

Asked about the campaign, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "There will certainly be a publicity campaign in order to make sure businesses are aware of the steps that they need to take for us being outside of the single market and the customs union."

Meanwhile, hopes of a swift US trade deal appear to have receded.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told Congress that it would be "almost impossible" for a deal to be reached before the November presidential election and warned that "very, very fundamental issues" had to be resolved.