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Johnson's Brexit Bill expected to sail through House of Commons as MPs return post-Christmas

Boris Johnson does not want the Brexit transition period extended beyond December 2020, but Ireland and Europe have said this may not be realistic.

queens-speech-2019 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured at the Houses of Parliament in London in December. Source: Adrian Dennis/PA Wire/PA Images

BORIS JOHNSON’S BREXIT Bill is expected to easily pass through the House of Commons this week, given the large majority secured by the Conservative Party in last month’s general election, as Members of Parliament return to work today.

The British prime minister’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ mantra resonated with voters and the Bill’s expected passage will pave the way for Britain to leave the European Union by 31 January.

Focus will now turn to a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and RU.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has said the content of such a deal between is more important than reaching an agreement by the end of this year.

Johnson altered his Brexit Bill to make it unlawful for the British government to extend the trade talks into 2021, giving negotiators less than a year to thrash out a deal.

However, Irish and European leaders have warned that agreeing a trade deal before the end of 2020 may not be possible.

house of commons Source: Leader of the House of Commons/Twitter

Johnson is due to meet Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, in London tomorrow. He is expected to reiterate his government’s position that the Brexit transition period, during which time the UK remains subject to many EU rules, should not be extended beyond December 2020.

Von der Leyen recently expressed “serious concern” over whether the bloc could conclude a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain this year. 

A spokesperson for the DFA told TheJournal.ie the focus of the trade talks “should be on content, not timing”.

“The EU has been clear that it will work hard to progress the negotiations as quickly as possible – but we should be clear that the overarching priority is to achieve an agreement that works as well as possible and that gives us the strongest possible foundations for a positive EU-UK relationship for years to come.”

The spokesperson added that Ireland and the 26 other EU Member States “will work for the closest, deepest and broadest possible relationship with the UK”.

“The future relationship will be based on a balance of rights and obligations, and will cover a range of issues of importance to Ireland. The aim is for an ambitious trade agreement, balanced by level playing field provisions,” they said. 

Johnson must decide by July if he wants to ask for the transition period to be extended — and, if so, whether by one or by two years. He has previously insisted he will not seek an extension.

‘Johnson may regret legislation’ 

In a recent interview with TheJournal.ie, Tánasite and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said Johnson may regret amending the relevant legislation in a bid to avoid extending the transition period. 

“I think he may regret doing that, by passing legislation, which effectively requires them to have everything done by the end of 2020, when they have the option to extend for a year or two years if they want to. It is effectively tying their own hands,” Coveney said.

“I think the EU isn’t going to be rushed here, they’ll negotiate a trade deal, as they always do. They’ll try to do it in as timely manner as we can, because everybody wants to get this behind us and to move on.

“But they’re not going to rush the deal and certainly Britain are not going to get a better deal because the EU are being rushed. If that is the strategy, I don’t think it’s going to work.”

Coveney continued: “There’s nothing to prevent Boris Johnson, if he wants to, of seeking an extension and changing the law if has to. I mean, he has a large majority that can allow him to do it … He still has options.”

In terms of Ireland’s priorities heading into the talks, Coveney said he doesn’t want to see any “race to the bottom” in terms of standards and regulations.

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If that is where Johnson is heading, there “won’t be tariff-free or quota-free trade” according to Coveney, who added that such free trade remains the stated objective of both sides.

Comprehensive trade deals of the kind the EU enjoys with Canada, Japan and Singapore have so far taken between six and eight years to agree. However, some officials hope that a bare bones arrangement can be reached this year to avoid massive disruption and economic damage when Britain leaves the bloc.

Downing Street yesterday hinted that Britain may conduct post-Brexit trade talks with the US in parallel to those with the EU.

Contains reporting from Christina Finn and © AFP 2019  

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Órla Ryan

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