European Union will 'not be rushed' into signing off on post-Brexit agreements, Irish deputy PM warns
The European Union will "not be rushed" into signing off on post-Brexit agreements with Britain despite a UK law setting a fixed deadline on the talks, Ireland's deputy prime minister has warned.
The Tánaiste cast fresh doubt on Johnson's "ambitious" vow not to extend the existing Brexit transition period, in which the UK will stay aligned to EU rules, beyond 31 December this year.
The Conservative manifesto commits the Prime Minister to the end-of-year deadline, teeing up a race to secure deals with the EU on areas including trade, security and aviation.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed by MPs this week enshrined in British law the commitment not to extend the so-called 'implementation period' December 2020 - meaning UK and EU negotiators will have just 11 months to negotiate fresh agreements.
Simon Coveney said that while the fixed deadline was "a matter for Boris Johnson", the EU would not be bumped into agreeing pacts with the UK to suit its timeframe.
"When people talk about the future relationship in the UK in particular they seem to only talk about a future trade agreement," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr.
"Actually, there's much more to this than that."
"There's fishing, there's aviation, there's data. And there's so many other things."
He added: "I know that Prime Minister Johnson has set a very ambitious timetable to get this done, he's even put it into British law. But just because a British Parliament decides that British law says something, doesn't mean that that law applies to the other 27 countries of the European Union.
"And so the European Union will approach this on the basis of getting the best deal possible, a fair and balanced deal to ensure that the UK and the EU can interact as friends in the future. But the EU will not be rushed on this just because Britain passes laws."
But Security Minister Brandon Lewis insisted it was an "achievable" aim to get an over-arching post-Brexit agreement signed off before Britain leaves the EU transition period at the end of 2020.
He told the same programme: "Let’s remember we are talking about a prime minister where people said we couldn’t reopen the Withdrawal Agreement - he did that in under a hundred days, got a new agreement.
"[People] said we couldn’t get it through parliament, we got the General Election, got a majority and just this week we had that vote, we are leaving the European Union."
The Irish deputy PM also urged British politicians to ignore calls to adopt the "language of enemies not friends" as the two sides thrash out a post-Brexit relationship.
He warned: "Both sides in this negotiation, in the next stage of Brexit, have a vested interest in working together, not to try and outmanoeuvre each other.
"We need to put in place, from a trade perspective, a deal that respects the fact that the EU has got to insist on equivalence and a level playing field if there's going to be free trade in the future. And the UK also has its interests in terms of the relationship it wants to develop with other parts of the world taken into account as well."
Coveney's comments come after the first face-to-face talks between the Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen, the newly-elected President of the European Commission.
Von der Leyen used a trip to the UK this week - where she held discussions with Johnson at Number 10 - to argue that it would be "basically impossible to negotiate all" elements of the two sides' future relationship by the December deadline.
And she warned: "Our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before.
"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."
But a Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson had urged the EU chief to kick off talks "on the future partnership and Canada-style FTA [Free Trade Agreement] as soon as possible after January 31".
They 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 [European Court of Justice] jurisdiction. He said the UK would also maintain control of UK fishing waters and our immigration system."