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Brexit: UK and EU agree not to extend transition period beyond December 2020

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outside 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outside 10 Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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There will no extension of the Brexit transition period beyond December 31, 2020, meaning that the European Union and the UK will have to strike a deal in just six months to avoid Britain crashing out of the bloc without one.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed on Monday not to extend the transition, which currently preserves much of the UK-EU relationship from before the UK left in January.

This despite the fact that talks have all but stalled between Europe and the UK, both due to failure to agree on key issues - such as fisheries - and the coronavirus pandemic, which has paralysed the UK and Europe since continent-wide lockdown began in March.

Under the agreement of the deal, the UK had until June to extend the transition period. But in a joint statement yesterday, Britain and the EU confirmed that the UK had declined to do so.

The EU and UK supported plans "to intensify the talks in July and to create the most conducive conditions for concluding and ratifying a deal before the end of 2020," leaders said in a statement.

"This should include, if possible, finding an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement."

Johnson, speaking to the media after the meeting, said that the UK and the EU were not too far apart but also called for an acceleration in the negotiations.

He said he believed a deal could be agreed in July, adding that he didn't want talks to go on until autumn or winter.

Many politicians and business leaders in the UK and Europe have called for the negotiations to be prolonged, especially in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.

New research revealed that more than half of the nearly 2,000 British people surveyed by pollster Ipsos MORI said the UK should request an extension to the transition period so the government could focus on COVID-19.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, regretting the deadlocked state of talks, has repeatedly accused the UK of failing to respect commitments made in the divorce deal.

The EU has insisted that the UK must respect the "level playing field" in future competition and that an agreement on fishing must form part of an overall deal. The EU wants to see rights to fish in UK waters retained under the deal, something the UK rejects.

Rejecting accusations that the EU is being intransigent, Barnier said last week that his mandate from the EU27 countries was "sufficiently flexible to find compromises" with the UK.

'The route to a compromise exists'

Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think tank, said ahead of the talks on Friday that while "the route towards an agreeable compromise exists", neither side is likely "to commit to finding it until later in the year, when the economic, and political, consequences of the alternative become significantly more tangible."

Georgina Wright, a senior researcher at the Institute for Government, also said that a deal is possible but is unlikely to be reached anytime soon.

"[The] UK wants a deal by the summer (to allow businesses time to prepare), EU can afford to go until 31 October. Both options look ambitious at the moment, she wrote.