They warned that the bloc would not even consider its own proposals until Britain leaves on January 31. The EU’s lackadaisical timeline provoked widespread dismay and is likely to frustrate Boris Johnson who said Britain wants trade talks to start the morning after Brexit and to be concluded by the end of 2020.
Re-igniting the Brexit trade row European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said: “The commission can adopt its proposal for the negotiation directives only once the UK has actually withdrawn from the EU.
“This we know will take some time, which is why we have said we will start negotiations as quickly as we can, but it will certainly not be before the end of February, beginning of March.”
Mr Mamer claimed the move was not a deliberate attempt to delay Brexit.
He explained: “This is not a slowing down or speeding up of the process.
“This is simply the nature of the institutional process and the consultations that need to take place before the negotiation directives can be formally adopted.”
Tory MPs were not impressed by the stalling tactic from Brussels.
Brexiteer Peter Bone, below, blasted the EU for dragging its heels.
“I am totally mystified by the EU and I still think there are some people over there who still think we are not leaving on January 31.
“They have known for some time that we are leaving so it is laughable that they do not yet have any plan – except to delay.
“Boris Johnson has made it clear that if negotiations are not completed by the end of the year then we will leave on WTO terms.”
Fellow Conservative MP Michael Fabricant said: “I don’t know whether this delay is a reflection of the famed inefficiency of the EU or just their bureaucracy, but this will not please France, Germany, or Holland whose economies are dependent on the huge UK market for their exports.”
And Tory MP Philip Davies added: “The EU have always prioritised political game playing over the economic well-being of their members and this is a prime example.
“That is one of the reasons why we are well shut of them, and why other countries will almost certainly come to that conclusion over time.”
But Irish Deputy PM Simon Coveney refused to blame the EU, and said that Britain had been given plenty of time to sort out a plan.
He said: “To put the blame on the EU Commission for the state of affairs seems to me to be beside the point. Quite clearly the UK has been in control of the calendar.”
The remarks threaten to open the growing rift between Britain and the EU over a future trading relationship.
Earlier this month new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it would be “impossible” to reach a comprehensive trade deal by the end of 2020 calling Mr Johnson’s deadline “very tight”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Britain is ready to begin trade negotiations with the EU immediately.
“We are clear what we want to achieve,” he said. “The EU is obviously going through a process of deciding what its position will be going into these discussions. We are ready to start negotiating from February 1.”
Britain is set to leave the EU at 11pm on January 31, with a host of parties planned across the country.
We will then enter into a standstill transition period which will come to an end in December.
During that period the UK and EU will try to hammer out the terms of their future relationship.
Mr Johnson has ruled out any extension to the transition period and believes a complete trade deal can be agreed by the end of the year.
He is expected to set out his goals for a future partnership with bloc in a public announcement early next month.
The PM will also unveil his blueprint for Britain’s much-vaunted blockbuster trade deal with America and its trading relationship with the rest of the world.
A No.10 source said: “We will set out in public what we want to achieve.”
The delay with the EU leaves open the option of the UK beginning trade talks with the US before negotiations begin with Brussels.
Officials would not be drawn on a timetable for UK-US negotiations, but the two sides have made “extensive preparations”.
Donald Trump has repeatedly spoken of his desire to reach an agreement with Mr Johnson, and the timing of the US presidential election means that a deal in the summer of 2020 could be his goal.
The UK was handed a boost yesterday (Mon) as new IMF projections showed the economy is set to outpace the eurozone in the first two years after Brexit.
The International Monetary Fund suggested the euro area would see economic growth of 1.3 percent in 2020 and 1.4 percent in 2021.
But it forecast the UK economy could see growth of 1.4 percent this year and 1.5 percent next year.