EU risks splits over Brexit trade talks

epa08005214 Charles Michel, President-elect of the European Council, waits to welcome the Finnish Prime Minister ahead to a meeting at the EU Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 18 November 2019. Charles Michel will take office on 01 December 2019 while Finland holds the Presidency of the Council. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

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The EU is ready for the next phase of Brexit but risks greater internal divisions over trade talks with the UK, one of its incoming leaders has said.

In one of his first interviews since being nominated president of the European council, Charles Michel said Brexit may have played an important role in bringing the EU together.

The former Belgian prime minister will take the reins following a formal handover ceremony on Friday in his Europa HQ in Brussels, as Donald Tusk stands down after five years in post.

Michel’s first big moment will be chairing the EU summit on 12-13 December – election time in the UK.

Michel said he hoped the election would bring clarity on whether the UK would ratify the withdrawal agreement. If Brexit happens on 31 January, the two sides will immediately embark on an 11-month race to negotiate a free-trade agreement.

Michel declined to predict whether the two sides could agree a trade deal in just 11 months. In the annals of trade talks this would be an unprecedented feat and one senior EU diplomat said he could not see it happening “in my wildest dreams”.

Michel said he wanted to avoid Brexit becoming a big issue for the summit, as he planned to focus on the eurozone, climate change and the EU’s next seven-year budget.



Via The Guardian

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