The European Union should be ready to start negotiating details of a post-Brexit transition period with Britain early in the new year, a senior EU official said on Friday, but talks on future trade will take longer. Both sides were already fairly clear on the structure of a transition period — likely to last for around two years after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019 and involve London accepting almost all EU rules without having a say in making them. “We could easily engage on those issues very early in the new year,” the official told reporters after the EU executive accepted that Britain had offered enough on divorce terms for it to recommend to governments that they discuss the future. For negotiations to start on the principles of a future relationship, the EU would need more details from Britain on what it wants after the transition and would then have to draw up a fuller set of guidelines for negotiators — probably at a summit in February or March, though possibly later, the official said. The intention would be to have a “framework” agreement on future relations ready by the time Britain leaves. Formal negotiations on a full free trade agreement would not, however, start until Britain is no longer a member.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said he believes that a full trade agreement can be negotiated in about three years, so that it could be ready by the end of the transition period. If it is not, the EU official noted, then there would a “cliff edge” scenario for trade relations when the transition period ends. He stressed that the EU would not agree to a long transition, though it has not specified how long that should be. The EU notes that Britain has asked for a transition of around two years.