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Britain has left the EU and embarked on a new course.

But for the time being, little has changed. The country remains inside the EU’s single market and customs union, trade is unimpeded and free movement of people is still in place. But it’s a temporary state of affairs.

The end of the UK’s post-Brexit transition period on December 31 will bring with it a cliff edge. How steep it is will depend on a future relationship negotiation that is set to begin shortly.

March 1 2020

Both sides want the EU-UK future-relationship talks to begin swiftly. The EU is aiming to have its negotiating mandate agreed for March 1 (Brussels hopes that Europe ministers from the EU27 will be able to sign it off at a meeting on February 25). This would give the European Commission the legal authorisation to open talks with the UK. Both sides agree that a priority in the talks will be to hammer out a free trade agreement that will be the core of their new future economic relationship. The EU and UK have said that the objective should be quota-free, tariff-free trade in goods.

June 2020

A time for stocktaking. An EU-UK political declaration, agreed as part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, says a summit should take place in June so Britain and the EU27 can assess the progress of the talks.

June is also the final month for Britain to request an extension of its transition period beyond 2020, something Mr Johnson has pledged not to do.

July 1

The political declaration that forms part of Mr Johnson’s Brexit agreement with the EU commits both sides to seek a deal by this date on access to UK fishing waters for European fishermen. The issue is of crucial importance to about eight coastal states, among them France, and EU leaders have made clear that trade talks will grind to a halt unless there is a deal. The two sides also have a target to reach decisions on access to each other’s financial services markets by this date. Brussels sees this as another source of leverage in the talks, given the importance of the City of London to the UK economy.

November 26 2020

EU officials say that a trade deal must be negotiated, checked, translated and presented to the European Parliament by this week if it is to be ratified by the end of the year.

MEPs will be in Strasbourg in the final week of November for their penultimate plenary session of 2020. The final one, in mid-December, would come too late to sign off on any deal with the UK.

EU negotiators note that, in practice, this leaves only about six months to actually politically negotiate with Britain.

December 31 2020

The cliff edge. If a trade deal is not in place, then Britain will fall back on to basic World Trade Organization terms, meaning tariffs on goods and little practical co-operation to smooth border checks. The outcome would effectively be the same as a no-deal Brexit and both sides would need to make preparations for how they cope with the economic fallout in 2021.

After 2020

Despite the push to secure a deal by the end of this year, future relationship talks are expected to continue after 2020. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has made clear that not everything can be addressed in the time remaining before the transition is set to expire, and that in some areas the EU can adopt stop-gap measures. He has given examples to MEPs, including air and road transportation, where the EU can simply grant temporarily permissions to Britain so that things continue as normal. The core trade deal may also be complemented by further agreements after 2020, notably in the area of services — which are so vital to the UK economy.

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