The Washington-based Atlantic Council revealed its assessment during an analysis written by Robert A Manning is a resident senior fellow with the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security (SCSS), and Mathew J Burrows, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, also attached to the SCSS. After Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal was approved by MPs last week, Britain is on course to leave the EU by January 31 – but the pressure is on to strike a wide-ranging free trade agreement with the bloc by December 31, 2020, with the Withdrawal Agreement Bill including a commitment to make it illegal for Parliament to legislate for an extension to the transition period. However, such an FTA with Brussels is far from guaranteed, with former World Trade Organization (WTO) adviser David Tinline suggesting Mr Johnson’s determination to “get Brexit done” made a hard Brexit, or even one on WTO rules, highly probable.
The Atlantic Council’s report considered what might happen next in the Brexit saga in a blog entitled Top ten risks of 2020 – and they concluded Mr Johnson may struggle to hammer out a satisfactory deal within such a tight timeframe.
Mr Manning and Mr Burrows said: ”The UK will be out of the EU by January 31, but it is less clear whether the December 31, 2020 deadline for completion of a UK-EU trade deal can be met.
“Johnson wants to rule out any extension of the Brexit process, with the risk that the UK departs the single market without any trade deal.
A still shows Prime Minister Boris Johnson recording a Christmas message
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“The EU, led by France and Germany, are increasingly wary of a UK which tries to undercut the single market by not adhering to the same environmental, labor, and other standards.”
They also cast doubt on the ease with which a trade deal with Donald Trump’s United States could be agreed.
The analysis explained: “Trump has promised quick movement towards a US-UK trade deal, but will Johnson want to pay the price?
A Pro-Brexit protester outside Parliament last week
“Opening the gates to cheap US agricultural goods could undermine Tory base support and stir public anger.
“A quick win on a deal with Washington isn’t likely to compensate for uncertainty over talks with Brussels, as the UK trades more with the EU than elsewhere.
“Over the long run, Brexit may lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom, as the Scottish Nationalist Party swept the Tories into dust and more Irish nationalist MPs were elected in Northern Ireland than the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
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The Atlantic Council analysis highlighted implications for the UK’s trading relationship with Ireland
“A UK-EU free trade deal could end up formalising the Irish Sea as the border between the two trade zones.”
As a result, it was heads and tails whether a UK-EU trade deal could be thrashed out by the year.
The chances of a UK-US deal by then were rated at 25 percent “given the political problems of passing any trade deal in a presidential election year”, they added.
A Brexit timeline
In an interview with Politico, Mr Tinline said: “If you’re going to set a hard time limit you’re going to reduce the level of ambition to the point where it’s been described as a ‘bare bones’ agreement.”
Any resulting deal would probably resemble a “Canada minus” deal as opposed to the “super Canada” plan which Mr Johnson has touted, with no time to strike even a basic agreement on services before the 2020 deadline, he warned.
Mr Tinline said he was also concerned at the prospect of leaving the EU on WTO terms.
The World Trade Organization in Geneva
He said: “It’s a concern because it’s a dramatic raising of barriers between the UK and its biggest trading partner. That’s essentially a hard Brexit.
“Even the FTA track is a pretty hard Brexit, as I see it.
“There will be greater friction not just at the Northern Ireland border but at all our borders.”