Deadline for trade talks with UK may need to be extended, EU chief warns

Ursula von der Leyen said the situation would need to be evaluated later in the year

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the meeting of the college of commissioners, on December 4, 2019 at the European commission headquarters in Brussels.   / AFP / Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD
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The European Union may have to extend the deadline for talks about a new trade deal with Britain, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

Ms Von der Leyen told French daily Les Echos on Friday that both sides needed to seriously think about whether there is enough time to negotiate a new trade deal and work out agreements about a series of other issues.

"It would be reasonable to evaluate the situation mid-year and then, if necessary, agree on extending the transition period," she said..

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a hard deadline of December 2020 for reaching a new trade deal with the EU, betting that the prospect of another Brexit cliff-edge would force Brussels to move quickly to seal an accord.

In separate comments to German magazine Der Spiegel, Ms von der Leyen said of Britain's departure deadline, currently set as December 31, 2020: "That worries me a lot, because time is extremely short for the mass of issues that have to be negotiated."

She said earlier this month that this timeframe is "extremely short" to discuss not only trade issues but also education, transport, fisheries and other issues.

Ms Von der Leyen told Der Spiegel that on security and defence: "Both sides are now striving for close cooperation."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stormed to an overwhelming election victory earlier this month.