France said on Thursday it would be “difficult” to conclude negotiations within four months on Britain’s post-Brexit trade relationship with the EU, and did not rule out a no-deal scenario.
The talks, EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said, must be concluded by the end of October, “which seems objectively difficult to achieve,” according to France’s European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin.
“We must immediately prepare for all scenarios, and in particular for the absence of a trade agreement,” she warned.
Last Friday, Barnier said British and European negotiators had made “no significant progress” in post-Brexit talks, accusing London of failing to honour the terms of its divorce from the European Union.
Barnier said an agreement must be reached before October 31 in order to be ratified before the end of the year, when Britain will leave the EU single market and customs union with or without a trade deal.
Montchalin told the French Senate’s European Affairs committee it appeared that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would not wish to extend the December 31 deadline.
Britain — which left the EU on January 31 after 47 years inside the European project — will leave the single market and customs union on December 31 after an 11-month transition.
A high-level conference with Johnson, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel to take stock of the situation, is envisaged later this month.
Diplomatic sources say a June 15 date was proposed, but London has not replied.