European Union leaders said on Friday they were ready for the next phase of Brexit, just hours after the resounding victory of Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s party that all but sealed the UK’s divorce from the bloc.
The Europeans had widely expressed hope for a convincing victory in the British vote, to achieve clarity in a crisis that has hounded Brussels since the British referendum to leave the EU in June 2016.
EU negotiators, however, are worried about the breakneck speed with which Johnson would like to strike a trade deal with Europe and any British effort to undermine the unity among the remaining 27 members.
“My point is very clear: we are ready. We have decided what are our priorities,” said EU President Charles Michel as he arrived at an EU summit where leaders discussed the aftermath of the UK vote and the UK’s planned departure from the bloc on January 31.
“I hope we will have loyal negotiations, good negotiations,” added Michel, who coordinates EU summits for the bloc’s 28 member states, that for now also includes the UK.
The former Belgian prime minister hoped for “an early ratification by the British parliament” of the exit agreement negotiated between London and the EU, “so that we can start the negotiations on the next phase calmly, quietly but with great determination”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Johnson on his party’s “clear” win, while other leaders hailed the end of three and half years of Brexit chaos, including three delays.
“A lot of remainers voted for Johnson because they were fed up. They wanted clarifications,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.
EU leaders in Brussels were to endorse a Brexit text at the end of their two-day summit, which was dominated on Thursday by climate talks.
According to the latest draft, seen by the AFP, the 27 other EU leaders will call for “as close as possible a future relationship with the UK” while warning that it “will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations and ensure a level playing field”.
And they will ask the European Commission to submit “a draft comprehensive mandate for a future relationship with the UK immediately after its withdrawal.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will direct trade negotiations, which the leaders will follow closely “and provide further guidance as necessary, fully consistent with the EU’s best interest”, the conclusions will add.
Johnson has until July 1 to ask for a trade talk extension.
If he refuses to extend the negotiation period, a no-deal Brexit will loom at the end of 2020, with the UK in danger of an abrupt cut in trade ties with Europe, endangering its economy.