LONDON (AFP) – Britain said on Wednesday it could seek a piecemeal post-Brexit deal with the European Union (EU) that leaves some issues unresolved but still lets it break free from the bloc at the end of the year.
Downing Street said Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered the message to Ursula von der Leyen in their first meeting in her capacity as European Commission president – and with Britain’s formal departure just three weeks away.
Both sides are eager to move on from the tumult and acrimony that followed Britain’s decision in a 2016 referendum to end its decades-long membership of the bloc. Johnson secured a comfortable majority in parliament in a December election and is virtually assured that his divorce deal with Brussels will finally be approved by January 31.
But that leaves just 11 months until the end of 2020 for the sides to agree a new economic partnership covering everything from trade to data protection policies.
Britain will keep following EU rules and paying its membership fees during the transition talks.
Johnson has until July 1 to ask Brussels for a one- or two-year delay. His office stressed again on Wednesday that “there will be no extension”.
“We are very clear we want to get on in terms of negotiating a deal,” a Downing Street spokesman told reporters.
“So maybe the approach of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed which characterised previous negotiations is not an approach that we are interested in taking.”
Von der Leyen warned Johnson ahead of their meeting that Britain risked losing open access to the European market – the world’s largest and Britain’s most important for trade – without compromises.
“With every choice comes a consequence. With every decision comes a trade-off,” she said in a keynote speech at the London School of Economics.
“It is basically impossible to negotiate all I have been mentioning. Therefore, we will have to prioritise, as long as we face that deadline of end of 2020.”
The EU has never reached a trade deal with any of its partners in just 11 months.