The incoming president of the European Council has said the EU stands ready to negotiate a trade deal once Brexit happens.
On a visit to Dublin, Charles Michel would not be drawn on whether it was realistic to anticipate an agreement being struck in the 11 months between the current exit date in January and the end of the transition period in December 2020.
“We will see, it is not my intention to predict,” he said.
The former Belgian prime minister expressed hope a deal could be achieved in matter of “months”, but suggested a lot depended on the outcome of the UK election.
While the UK is set to leave in the EU at the end of January, the Prime Minister has yet to ratify the withdrawal agreement in parliament.
Boris Johnson is hoping to secure a majority in December’s General Election in order to enable him to achieve that.
“I don’t know what will happen in December, we will see what the situation will be in December after these British elections,” said Mr Michel.
“But it will be very important for us to be ready and we are ready, I repeat, we are ready to negotiate, we are ready to be loyal in these negotiations, and we will be transparent and we also be very committed in order to promote the level playing field and in order to protect the single market and to try to find the best possible agreement for the future relationship – and I hope it will be possible in the next months to reach an agreement, I think it would be excellent for our common future.”
Mr Michel was in Dublin for talks with Irish premier Leo Varadkar.
Earlier in the day Mr Varadkar, attending the British Irish Council summit, said it would be “difficult but not impossible” to reach an agreement on the future relationship in 11 months.
At a joint press conference at Government Buildings with Mr Varadkar on Friday night, Mr Michel vowed to maintain the unity of the EU 27 as the bloc looks to potential trade talks with the UK in the new year.
“It is a difficult issue (Brexit), we will follow the results of the next elections in the UK but it is important to maintain this strong unity of the 27 countries and also I would like to reaffirm our support and co-operation with your country (Ireland) because we know that it’s important to try to have an orderly Brexit,” he said.
“We will keep a strong dialogue in order to try to take the right decisions on this issue.”
Mr Michel would not be drawn when asked if the EU would contemplate further changes to the Withdrawal Agreement after the General Election.
“Our intention is really clear,” he said.
“We have an agreed document, the Withdrawal Agreement. There was a strong position of the 27 countries and it’s important to have the clarity, there is a choice and a decision at the British level to organise the new elections in December.
“We will look at the results, we will certainly respect the results of this election, but it is not my intention to predict what will happen in December.”
Mr Michel added: “But the most important message is we are ready, we are ready to co-operate with the UK, we are also ready to keep this unity but we are also ready to promote and defend the level playing field, which is very important for us for the future, to protect the integrity of the single market and I would like again to reaffirm our support and solidarity with this country (Ireland) because we know it’s important to have this strong unity and I will work to try to guarantee this unity and, of course, I would like also to repeat that, in my opinion, it is important in the future to keep very close co-operation with the UK.
“It will be very important in the different fields to work together with the UK – at the trade level, at the economic level, for our common security and also because we share the same values.”
Mr Varadkar said he was confident Mr Michel could fill the shoes of his predecessor, Donald Tusk.
“We were very fortunate to have a really excellent president in President Tusk, but I am absolutely confident that incoming president Michel will fill his shoes and do as good a job as he did,” he said.
“I think there’s a particular role for the president of the European Council in seeing the Union as a club of 27, or 28, having particular regard to the interests of smaller members states.
“President Tusk did that very well and I know Charles Michel coming from Belgium, a small to medium-sized country, will understand those issues and that gives us great confidence that that sort of operating method will continue.”