Leo Varadkar: EU-UK trade deal by end of 2020 'not impossible'

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar is optimistic about the timeline for a UK–EU trade deal. Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar on Friday suggested that negotiations on a trade deal between the UK and European Union could be concluded by the end of 2020.

He said it would be “difficult, but not impossible” to come to an agreement by then if the UK left the EU before 31 January, and said the process would be “quicker” if the trade deal was “more like the status quo”.

He cautioned, however, that it might not be possible to have the deal actually ratified by the end of the proposed Brexit transition phase, since it requires the approval of the bloc’s 27 member states.

Prime minister Boris Johnson on Sunday claimed that the UK would be able to negotiate a “super Canada-plus” free trade agreement with the EU by the end of 2020.

But trade talks cannot legally begin until the UK actually leaves the bloc, leaving just 11 months to negotiate a deal before the end of the transition phase.

READ MORE: Michel Barnier: Next Brexit stage will be 'difficult and demanding'

The trade agreement with Canada that the “super Canada-plus” proposal is modelled on took seven years to negotiate.

In additional to the approval of national leaders from each member state, the trade deal will also have to be approved by the European parliament and its Westminster counterpart.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned earlier this month that trade negotiations between the EU and UK would be “difficult and demanding”. He noted that the bloc “will not tolerate unfair competitive advantage”.

“The UK should not think that zero tariffs, zero quotas will be enough,” Barnier said, noting that the 11-month negotiation period would be “extremely short”.

“Boris Johnson said he wants a best in class free trade agreement. What does best mean? For us, it means a free trade agreement whose aim is not only economic and financial profit … but is also in the interest of the people and their environment and their living standards.”