Friday

3rd Feb 2023

EU sighs relief after 'decisive' Johnson victory in UK

  • EU council chief Charles Michel represented the UK at the EU summit - in the absence of UK PM Boris Johnson at the EU summit due to the UK election (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU leaders have expressed hope on Friday (13 December) that British prime minister Boris Johnson's decisive electoral victory will bring clarity on the UK side on Brexit, and negotiations can start quickly on the future relations.

EU leaders sounded relieved that Johnson's success might speed up the Brexit process that has been in deadlock for months, as they reconvened on Friday for their summit in Brussels.

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A divided British parliament has been unable to ratify the withdrawal negotiated with the EU, some three and a half years after the initial referendum 'Leave' result in 2016.

"It is a good result for the UK to have a stable a majority," Luxembourgish prime minister Xavier Bettel told reporters.

"No excuses, he [Johnson] needs to deliver now," Bettel warned.

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar said the election result is "a relief" for Ireland and the UK as well, which ends years of "deadlock and gridlock".

EU leaders called for the UK to quickly ratify the divorce deal and move onto negotiations on the future trade deal.

"It is a clear victory, and we expect the British to vote as soon as possible on this agreement, it is very important," EU council president Charles Michel said after the meeting.

Varadkar also said he hoped the clear Conservative win would speed up the ratification.

"It is positive thing that we have a decisive outcome in Britain in their ,[…] we have a clear majority to ratify the withdrawal agreement," Varadkar said arriving at Friday's summit.

Varadkar added that the clear majority for Johnson makes it easier to strike a trade deal by the end of 2020.

Trade deals usually take years to negotiate, but the withdrawal agreement give only 11 months of transition period remaining until the UK actually leaves the bloc at the end of next year.

Few in Brussels believe the transition period, kicking off after 31 January, will be long enough to seal a deal with Britain.

"I expect intensive discussion in different issues, such as fisheries, cyber security. The most sticky issues we have is to negotiate quickly, that we need to conclude by end of the year," German chancellor Angela Merkel said, adding that the EU has until June to decide to extend the end of the transition period date, if the UK requested.

Johnson said during the election campaign he would not ask for such an extension.

"We have to act quickly," Merkel added.

EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the timeframe will be "very challenging" but the outcome will be an "unprecedented relationship".

She said the EU will put "economic cliff-edge" issues first on its list to negotiate with the UK on the future relations, where there is neither an international framework to fall back on, or unilateral contingency measures are insufficient.

Fair play

The EU is also keen to make sure that there will not be unfair competition in its neighbourhood.

"We are ready to start the next phase, and promote the European interests, the level playing field is a very important goal for us," council chief Michel warned.

Varadkar said he wanted to see a "trade deal plus" with Britain, with no tariff or quotas and "a set of minimum standards", so that "nobody feels that there is unfair competition."

The EU will focus on environmental and labour standards, and state aid rules to ensure Britain would not be able to undercut European competitors on the single market.

Fishy problem

But the UK will be under pressure to loosen its standards if it wants to clinch a bilateral deal with the US.

Another tricky issue will be fishing as EU countries will no longer be able to operate in British waters. The two sides will need to negotiate fishing quotas.

On Friday, it took nine minutes for EU leaders to adopt their pre-arranged statements on Brexit, reconfirming a desire for a relationship "as close as possible", and tasking the commission to draw up a negotiating mandate for the future talks on trade.

Michel Barnier was appointed as chief negotiator with the UK on the future relationship agreement.

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