Head of the EU team for Brexit negotiations, Michel Barnier has suggested that the UK will have to settle for a trade deal with the EU similar to Canada.
Speaking to French newspaper Les Echoes, Mr Barnier suggested the UK’s decision to leave the single market and customs union meant any deal would “have to work on a model that is closer to the agreement signed with Canada – a possibility Theresa May ruled out in her Florence speech last month.
The EU lead negotiator also claimed it would be “several years” before a Brexit trade deal was agreed, thus denting another blow to Mrs May, who told the House of Commons on Monday that the UK would “need to know” the terms of its future relationship before any transition period was fully agreed.
“A transitional period would leave us more time to prepare for the future relationship. The two phases are difficult. The second will be very different and will last several years,” he said, raising the prospect of Brexit talks lasting well beyond the UK’s formal departure.
“It is truly unique because instead of promoting regulatory convergence, it will aim to frame a difference. It will involve risks, including about its political ratification, making all the more necessary transparency around these topics”, he added.
When asked whether a transition deal was now a certainty, Mr Barnier said: “If we reach an agreement on the orderly withdrawal of the UK, such a period, both short and framed, is possible”.
“To my mind, it makes sense that it covers the financial period, so until 2020”, he stressed.
Brexit talks are currently on a stalemate, as Barnier refuse to start talks on trade until a divorce bill is agreed, but EU leaders have however initiated a preparatory internal discussions on a future relationship with the UK.