Brexit: Irish leader says EU will have upper hand in UK trade talks

Leo Varadkar said it was important the two sides started negotiations quickly

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts as he listens to students solving maths questions during his visit to the Department of Mathematics at King's Maths School, part of King's College London University, in central London on January 27, 2020. Britain on Sunday announced a new fast-track visa scheme for top scientists, researchers and mathematicians as it prepares a new immigration system for life outside the European Union. Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed the plan just days before Brexit finally takes place on January 31. / AFP / POOL / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
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Only days before Britain is due to leave the European Union, Ireland's Prime Minister says Brussels will have the upper hand in upcoming trade negotiations.

Leo Varadkar on Monday warned "we're only at halftime on Brexit" as the deadline for Britain's departure from the bloc looms.

“The European Union is a union of 27 member states. The UK is only one country. And we have a population and a market of 450 million people. The UK, it's about 60 (million)," Mr Varadkar told the BBC.

"So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team?” he added.

An 11-month transition period is set to follow the UK's exit on January 31, with Britain continuing to follow EU rules while the two sides work out new deals on trade, security and other areas of cooperation.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is adamant that he won’t agree to extend the Brexit transition beyond the end of 2020, even if a deal has not been struck. But Mr Varadkar said a full agreement would be hard to hammer out in such a timeline.

“We need to get down to business very quickly trying to get that trade deal, which is absolutely essential for the Irish economy, as well as of course for Britain's as well,” said Mr Varadkar.

Ireland is the only EU country to share a land border with the UK, and Britain is one of its top trading partners.