European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that it will be "basically impossible" to draft a comprehensive post-Brexit trade deal with the U.K. before the year ends, despite the British government's refusal to extend the transition period for the country's exit from the EU beyond December, multiple outlets reported.
Von der Leyen made the comment at a speech at the London School of Economics on Jan. 8, hours before meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss Middle East security and Brexit matters.
At the event, Von der Leyen had an exchange with the EU's top Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who stressed that leaving the bloc would involve renegotiating some "600 international agreements" on top of a new free-trade deal, The Guardian reported. Von der Leyen responded by saying that it "is basically impossible to negotiate" all of the areas of concern between the U.K. and the EU given the constraints of the transition period which will end on Dec. 31.
She added that the EU will have to prioritize elements of the deal to allow the U.K. to trade closer to EU terms, instead of falling back on World Trade Organization rules in a no-trade-deal scenario.
"The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership has to be. And without an extension of the transition period beyond 2020, you cannot expect to agree on every single aspect of our new partnership," Von der Leyen said.
The transition phase, part of the withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU, mandates that the country will remain under the bloc's rules and contribute to its budget until Dec. 31. London and Brussels will have until then to hammer out a comprehensive post-Brexit trade deal and have it ratified by both parties. The transition phase can only be extended once up to Dec. 31, 2022.
In a statement issued after Von der Leyen met with Johnson, the prime minister's office reiterated that Britain wants to strike a broad free trade agreement and to continue cooperating with the EU, but only according to its own timeline.