Leo Varadkar doubts EU-UK trade deal can be sealed in a year

Boris Johnson claims he will secure ‘Super Canada Plus’ agreement if he wins election

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed doubt that British prime minister Boris Johnson would  be able to successfully negotiate a comprehensive trade deal with the European Union within a year. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed doubt that British prime minister Boris Johnson would be able to successfully negotiate a comprehensive trade deal with the European Union within a year. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed doubt that British prime minister Boris Johnson will be able to successfully negotiate a comprehensive trade deal with the European Union within a year.

Mr Johnson has made the promise a plank of his general election campaign, claiming that he would negotiate what he calls a “Super Canada Plus” deal with within 12 months should the Conservatives win the general election and if the Brexit withdrawal agreement is ratified before the end of January.

Mr Varadkar, who is attending the annual congress of the European People’s Party in Zagreb, Croatia, said it was possible to negotiate a deal but it would be difficult within the time frame suggested by Mr Johnson.

Canada’s trade deal with the EU imposes tariffs on only 2 per cent of goods. However, all goods are checked at the EU border as there is no regulatory alignment.

“If there is an agreement I think we will hit the ground running right away,” said Mr Varadkar. “It’s possible to get that done by (the end of) 2020.”

However, he added: “It has to be ratified by over 20 parliaments and that is going to be difficult.

“The option is there to extend the transition period for another year or two if we don’t have it done by then.”

Alignment

A Canada-style deal would be moving both the EU and Britain away from the current post-Brexit situation, which will involve close alignment, and Mr Varadkar said such a deal would take longer to negotiate.

“The quickest deal is one that is very close to our current trading relationship. The more the future relationship diverges from the status quo the longer it is going to take. If Mr Johnson wants it done quickly it is in his interest to negotiate a very close trading relationship,” said Mr Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at the opening of the two-day congress of the centre-right EPP, which is the biggest grouping in the European parliament.

Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee is expected to be elected as one of the EPP’s 10 vice presidents on Thursday. She also expressed strong doubt yesterday that a trade deal could be struck within a year if withdrawal goes through in January. She pointed to the trade deal with Canada taking 10 years in total.

New president

The outgoing president of the European Council Donald Tusk was elected by acclamation as the new president of the EPP on Wednesday.

Andrej Plenkovic, the Croatian prime minister, and leader of the HRZ party, who is hosting the conference, said Mr Tusk was “straight talking and bold in manner” and would help to “reinvigorate” the party.

Mr Plenkovic also indicated that no decision would be taken at the congress over whether to permanently expel the ruling Hungarian party Fidesz and the country’s prime minister Viktor Orban. The party has removed judges, taken a harsh anti-immigrant line and has been accused of suppressing free speech.

Mr Tusk said that under no circumstances should the EPP concede its values of security, rule of law, solidarity and freedom to populist, anti-immigrant and right-wing parties which have been making electoral gains in Europe over the past number of years.