DUBLIN — The European Union's top official said on 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 said on a visit to Ireland 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 2016 referendum.
The first big clash will revolve around the sequence in which the various issues are discussed.
The EU primarily exports good 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 just eight months because an agreement would take one or two months to be ratified by the various governments.
The talks formally begin after a period of consultations in Brussels and the approval of a formal EU negotiation mandate.
"We're going to be ambitious and we want to have a very close partnership with our British friends," she said.
The overarching theme of the talks will how closely Britain remains aligned to EU rules and regulations after Brexit.
Von der Leyen insists that Britain cannot expect a preferential trade terms without accepting "a level playing field".
Britain would like to set its own rules after Brexit and strike its own trade agreements with the United States and other economic powers.
"It is the UK's choice," von der Leyen said.
"The UK knows the closer they want to be to the single (EU) market, the more of course the have to align to the rules of the single market." — AFP