Brussels chief: Post-Brexit trade talks could last entire transition period
The UK could still be negotiating its future trade deal with the EU right up until the moment the Brexit transition period ends, top Brussels bigwig Guy Verhofstadt said today.
The Brexit chief for the European Parliament said the so-called 'political declaration' could take months longer to hammer out than claimed by Brexit Secretary David Davis.
He also reiterated the Brussels position that the Irish border ‘backstop’ proposed by Theresa May was "not acceptable", and rejected her preferred post-Brexit customs model.
Cabinet minister Mr Davis has said the 'political declaration' - setting out the two sides' intentions for a future free trade agreement - could be finalised at the EU summit in October this year.
In April, he said the agreement could be converted into a fully-formed trade treaty by the time the UK quits the bloc in March 2019, before the beginning of the two-year transition period.
But Mr Verhofstadt today poured cold water on those hopes, telling MPs he saw the timetable "a little bit differently".
"It will take more than a few weeks and a few months to do that," he told the cross-party Exiting the European Union Committee this morning.
"I think it shall be necessary to use the whole transition period to detail this political declaration."
He said it would take a long time to hammer out a direction for trade, economic ties, security and other areas.
"I am optimistic by nature," he went on. "But I’m not so optimistic that you can do it in three months."
BACKSTOP 'NOT ACCEPTABLE'
Elsewhere, Mr Verhofstadt heaped scorn on the 'backstop' option proposed by the UK to keep the Irish border open in the event a new system for customs ties with Brussels is not finalised in time.
The Prime Minister was criticised by Brussels for putting an expected end date of December 2021 on the emergency measure, which would see the UK remain in a close customs arrangement with the bloc.
But Mr Verhofstadt blasted: "What is on the table was not acceptable for a number of reasons.
"First, the backstop was not a backstop because it was only temporary. Secondly there was no regulatory alignment. So it was lacking the two main elements to be acceptable."
He also rejected the so-called 'customs partnership' proposal preferred by the Prime Minister for after Brexit, which would see the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of Brussels.
"We are not going to outsource the EU's customs competences to the UK," he told the MPs.
Elsewhere, he said staying in the EU single market for goods only - a proposal apparently under consideration by Downing Street - would be "very difficult if not impossible" because goods are so wrapped up with services.