The UK will split from Brussels on January 31 and there will then be a ‘standstill’ transition period until the end of 2020 when the two sides will try to hammer out a trade deal.
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Number 10 said today that the UK will ‘not just focus on discussing the future partnership with the EU’ after Brexit because it will be ‘free to hold trade discussions with countries across the world’.
The possibility of the government engaging in tandem talks with the EU and the US will delight Tory Brexiteers.
They believe the potential for a swift free trade deal with the White House could stop the EU from dragging its feet on agreeing its own deal.
Brexiteers believe the ‘leverage’ of US trade talks will force the EU to pull out all of the stops to agree a deal with the UK by the end of the year or risk a better-prepared Britain opting to walk away.
They fear the EU could delay progress on talks in order to pressure Boris Johnson into breaking his promise not to extend the transition period which would then likely require the UK to make further budget contributions.
Asked if the UK will conduct trade talks with the EU in tandem with trade talks with the US, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Once we have left the EU on the 31st of January we will be free to hold trade discussions with countries across the world and not just focus on discussing the future partnership with the EU.’
Mr Johnson will meet Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, in Downing Street for talks on Wednesday.
The ‘introductory meeting’ between the pair is likely to set the tone for the trade negotiations which will then follow in the months to come.
The PM is believed to want swift progress on a EU/UK trade deal. Downing Street today insisted its focus remained on hitting the end of 2020 deadline.
Asked when Mr Johnson wanted intensive negotiations with Brussels to begin, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘Where minds should be focused is on the fact that the EU jointly agreed with the UK that it would do everything to conclude an ambitious future partnership by the end of 2020.
Many EU figures believe it will not be possible to strike a full trade deal with the UK in such a short amount of time.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill the legislation needed to make an orderly Brexit happen at the end of the month will return to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week for further votes and debate.
The draft law will then move to the House of Lords for further scrutiny starting on Monday next week.
The government is hoping to have the law on the statute book by the middle of the month so that the European Parliament can then ratify the agreement before the end of January.
Even if the law is passed well ahead of January 31, the current divorce date will not change.
‘Clearly, the important date is that the WAB is in law and received Royal Assent by the point of our departure on January 31,’ the PM’s spokesman said today.