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'Brexit is only at half-time': McEntee says negotiating trade deal will be 'very difficult'

The UK is set to leave the EU at the end of January.

Helen McEntee
Helen McEntee
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

MINISTER FOR EUROPEAN Affairs Helen McEntee has said she feels negotiating a new trade deal after Brexit will be very difficult.

“My own personal view is that Brexit is really only at half-time; we have a huge amount of work still to do,” she told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

“I think it’s very welcome, but with a tinge of sadness that the Withdrawal Agreement has passed through all the stages in Westminster.

The UK is set to leave the EU at the end of January, after EU chiefs signed off on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with Boris Johnson.

Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, confirmed on Friday that he had signed the Withdrawal Agreement.

The document, agreed between the UK and the EU after years of back-and-forth negotiations, was also signed by the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Queen Elizabeth II gave royal assent to the legislation for Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, paving the way for the UK to leave the European Union with an agreement at the end of January – almost four years after 2016’s Leave vote.

The agreement still needs to be approved by the European Parliament before Brexit day, with a vote expected on 29 January.

The UK is set to enter a transition period in February, during which the relationship with Brussels will remain the same while trade talks are finalised before the tight 31 December deadline.

Trade experts have warned that negotiating a comprehensive trade deal with the EU could prove difficult, especially in such a short time frame. Critics of Brexit have also said that the UK could still end up facing a no-deal scenario if an agreement isn’t reached before the deadline. 

“Yes, on the first of February, the UK will leave, and nothing will change,” McEntee said today. 

“However, the idea that we can negotiate a trade deal with one that is comprehensive, one that provides very little change for our citizens, not just in the UK and Ireland, but the EU as well, within about a 12-month space, it’s very difficult,” she said. 

“Now of course the EU is willing and Michel Barnier is still there, and he is working with his team, and all member states are included to ensure that we have a mandate and that we are ready for these negotiations when they start.”

“We do know, of course, that Boris Johnson has said he does not want to have an extension, which means trying to negotiate a very difficult trade deal, essentially in 10 months,” McEntee added.

“We know, looking at previous trade, how long they have taken, but we have said ‘we are willing, we are ready’.

“And what we do need to make sure that in all of the negotiations Ireland’s priorities are heard, that the other 26 member states’ priorities are heard and that there is a level playing field, that we have a balance of rights and obligations throughout all of this.”

With reporting from Press Association 

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