Boris Johnson says UK 'ready' to start trade talks as EU chief brands deadline 'impossible'
Boris Johnson has told the president of the European Commission that Britain is "ready" to kick off talks on a post-Brexit trade deal despite her warning his timeframe for an agreement is "impossible".
The Prime Minister used talks with Ursula von der Leyen at Downing Street to double down on his vow not to extend the existing Brexit transition period, in which the UK will stay aligned to EU rules, beyond 31 December this year.
His message came after Ms Von der Leyen, who recently took over from Jean Claude-Juncker as the Commission's top official, cast fresh doubt on Britain's deadline for a deal.
In a speech at the London School of Economics, the EU Commission chief said: "Without an extension of the transition period beyond 2020, you cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of our new partnership.
"We will have to prioritise."
Ms Von der Leyen warned that leaving the EU would involve the renegotiation of "600 international agreements" as well as a new free-trade pact.
She said: "It is basically impossible to negotiate all [of the areas]."
And she warned the UK not to diverge too strongly from EU rules to avoid losing preferential access to its markets.
"Our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before," she said.
"It will not be as close as before because with every choice comes a consequence. With every decision, comes a trade-off.
"Without the free movement of people, you cannot have the free movement of capital, goods and services.
"Without a level playing field on environment, labour and state aid, you cannot have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market.
"The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership will be."
Downing Street described the meeting between the two leaders - who attended the same school in Belgium - as "positive".
In a statement released following the talks, Number 10 said: "On Brexit, the PM stressed that his immediate priority was to implement the Withdrawal Agreement by January 31. They discussed the progress of ratification in the UK and in the European Parliament.
"He said the UK wanted a positive new UK and EU partnership, based on friendly co-operation, our shared history, interests and values.
"The PM reiterated that we wanted a broad free trade agreement covering goods and services, and co-operation in other areas."
But a spokesperson added: "The PM was clear that the UK would not extend the Implementation Period beyond 31 December 2020; and that any future partnership must not involve any kind of alignment or ECJ jurisdiction. He said the UK would also maintain control of UK fishing waters and our immigration system.
"The PM made clear that we would continue to ensure high standards in the UK in areas like workers' rights, animal welfare, agriculture and the environment.
"The PM said the UK was ready to start negotiations on the future partnership and Canada-style FTA as soon as possible after January 31."
The talks came as MPs continued their scrutiny of the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which sets the UK up to leave the European Union on 31 January.