The UK and EU are facing the possibility of a harmful no-deal Brexit if a trade deal cannot be sorted before the end of next year, the president of the EU Commission has warned.
Ursula von der Leyen, who has replaced Jean-Claude Juncker in the top EU post, warned that the timeframe to complete a deal is “extremely challenging” and “leaves us very little time”.
She also said a no-deal Brexit would be worse for Britain than for the EU.
Boris Johnson won last week’s election on the back of promising to “get Brexit done” and his withdrawal agreement is expected to be passed this week now he has a majority in Parliament.
The UK will then enter a transition period - due to end by the end of the year - while it negotiates the future relationship with the EU.
Failure to do so could result in a no-deal Brexit if either side refuses to extend the deadline.
This is looking more likely with suggestions emerging this week that Mr Johnson may try to legally prevent any extension to the transition period.
Speaking in the European Parliament today, President von der Leyen said: “In case we cannot conclude an agreement by the end of 2020 we will face again a cliff edge situation, and this would clearly harm our interests but it will impact more the UK than us as the European Union will continue benefitting from its single market, its customs union and its 7,000 international agreements we have signed with our partners.
“But it is clearly not in our interest.”
She added that the EU will try to “make the most out of the short period” and said that “I hope for the sake of the European people and the sake of the British people that we will have an unprecedented partnership”.
She continued: “This is not the end of something, it is the beginning of new relations between neighbours and I want us to become good neighbours with our friends in the United Kingdom.”
Ms von der Leyen also paid tribute to “very brave Remain MEPs” who she thanked for their “courage”.
“We’ll never miss those who scream and yell,” she said, apparently gesturing at pro-Brexit MEPs.