Will work 'day and night' for post-Brexit trade deal with Britain: EU chief

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Shutterstock

The European Union's top official said Wednesday the bloc was ready to work "day and night" to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain by the year-end deadline.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, on a visit to Ireland, said that formal talks would begin at the end of February or early March and simultaneously cover a range of issues.

"We are in a very good spirit to go as fast possible, to work as hard as possible day and night to move forward quickly," she said before heading into talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

"We will go in parallel. It's not only trade. A lot of topics need to be (covered)," she added.

Von der Leyen warned in London last week that it was "basically impossible" to get a comprehensive free trade agreement negotiated in less than a year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has until July 1 to ask for more time but has vowed not to prolong a process that began when Britons backed Brexit in a June 2016 referendum.

The first big clash will revolve around the sequence in which the various issues are discussed after Brexit day on January 31.

The EU primarily exports goods to Britain and imports UK services. Both sides would like their concerns addressed first in the limited timeframe.

Von der Leyen said negotiators would only really have eight months because an agreement takes time to be ratified by all 28 countries.

The talks formally begin after a period of consultations in Brussels and the approval of an EU negotiating mandate.

The overarching theme of the talks will be how closely Britain remains aligned to EU rules and regulations after Brexit.

Von der Leyen insists that Britain cannot expect preferential trade terms without accepting "a level playing field".

Britain would like to set its own rules after Brexit that give it more leeway to strike trade agreements with the United States and other economic powers.

Brussels will keep the interests of EU member Ireland closely in mind because of its border with Britain and heavy dependence on the UK market.

Ireland "will be absolutely on team EU in these negotiations," said Varadkar. "Getting that agreement is crucial for businesses, for jobs for exports and for the agri-food sector.

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