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EU chief warns Britain over new "cliff edge"

December 18, 2019

Following British PM Johnson's announcement seeking a fast-track trade deal with the EU, the European Commission head said the UK risked more than the EU from a hard Brexit. She warned of a challenging timetable.

Britain's cliffs of Dover
Image: picture-alliance/DUMONT

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that failing to negotiate a new trade dealafter Brexit would hurt Britain more than it would the EU.

Von der Leyen's remarks come after Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons Tuesday that his government would outlaw any extension to an 11-month transition period following Britain's expected departure date from the EU on January 31.

Read moreGerman businesses already incurring Brexit losses, says industry boss

"The timetable ahead of us is extremely challenging," von der Leyen told the European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg.

After Britain leaves the EU, it will remain in a transitional arrangement with the bloc until the end of 2020 while negotiators debate future trade ties.

Europäisches Parlament | Ursula von der Leyen, Präsidentin der Europäischen Kommission
Von der Leyen said Wednesday that Johnson's timetable is 'extremely challenging'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. von Ditfurth

EU officials have said that Johnson's short time frame is unrealistic, and would do harm to reaching a comprehensive deal.

"Time is limited and it won't be possible to do everything, but we'll do everything we can," the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Wednesday. 

"In case we cannot conclude an agreement by the end of 2020, we will face again a cliff edge," Von der Leyen said. "This would clearly harm our interests, but it will impact the UK more than us."

The Commission chief underlined that the bloc would continue to profit from its single market, customs union and 70 international agreements with partners.

Read moreBertelsmann: EU Single Market boosts per capita incomes by almost €1,000 a year

No rubber stamp for Johnson  

Johnson said that his government plans to present its amended Brexit bill to the British Parliament on Friday. The Parliament, which is dominated by Conservative Party lawmakers

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The European Parliament is expected to ratify the bill on January 29. However, the head of the EP's Brexit steering group, Guy Verhofstadt, has warned that European lawmakers will not automatically consent to the withdrawal bill if citizen's rights are not addressed. 

Read moreIMF warns of trade tensions in global outlook downgrade

"I get thousands of mails from UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK who are panicking and wanting to know their status," he said on Twitter. 

"That will have to be resolved before we approve the exit treaty," he said, calling on Johnson to guarantee the residence rights of all EU nationals.

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wmr/rc   (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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