Speaking at a press conference in Brussels today, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator for Brexit, told reporters that “time will be short” for Brexit negotiations, because following the trigger of the Article 50 process by the UK government, the proposed deal must be ratified by the EU and UK within the two year time period set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Mr Barnier told reporters that “it is clear the period for actual negotiations will be shorter than two years”, and that the realistic timeframe for negotiations is less than 18 months. Mr Barnier suggested that negotiations could start a few weeks after Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50 (anticipated to occur in March 2017), and a final deal reached by October 2018.
Meanwhile Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has given clear indications that she does not intend to give Britain much leeway in its Brexit negotiations. Ms Merkel told her own party congress that Britain will not be allowed to “cherry pick” during Brexit negotiations if it wanted access to the single market, and that the UK government will need to respect freedom of movement and the single market. Ms Merkel told delegates that “The four basic freedoms must be safeguarded – freedom of movement for people, goods, services and financial market products. Only then can there be access to the single market”.