U.K. Needs Common Brexit Plan as Time Running Out, Portugal Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. must arrive at a unified strategy to leave the European Union, with only about a year remaining to strike a deal that can be ratified on schedule by 2019, according to Portugal’s top diplomat.

As a new round of talks began this week, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier expressed exasperation over the ambiguity of Britain’s position. He called for a clarification so the two sides can start “negotiating seriously.” That stance was backed by Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, who said the U.K. government still hadn’t decided what it wants.

“As far as we know, the British cabinet hasn’t arrived yet at a common position,” Santos Silva said late Monday in an interview at Bloomberg’s offices in Prague. “But if we’re dealing with this as friends and partners, which we shall do, we Europeans must wait for a clarification of the British political scene. We have to give some time to the British cabinet to arrive at a position that its negotiation team can clearly assume.”

Despite a flurry of position papers from the government, the U.K.’s goals after its exit from the world’s largest trading bloc are far from clear. Not clinching a deal within the two-year window that Prime Minister Theresa May triggered on March 29, 2017 would risk a disorderly departure, known as hard Brexit. Actual negotiating time is scarcer still, with the remaining EU members needing about six months to discuss and ratify the agreement.

“Time is a big restriction here because it’s even less than a year and a half,” Santos Silva said. “If we reach a deal, our national parliaments have to discuss it. So we have to count on at least a semester for the procedural ratification within the EU 27. Time is a big, big restriction, and the path has to accelerate.”

It’s unclear whether enough progress will be made during the latest round of talks for discussions to begin in October on post-Brexit trade, Santos Silva said.