BRUSSELS (REUTERS, AFP) - European diplomats on Thursday (Dec 12) welcomed the clarity an apparently decisive election victory for the Conservative Party gave to Britain's stalled withdrawal from the European Union, but said it would be challenging to agree on a trade deal by the end of 2020.
"Clarity is good, but a tall order to move on the future relationship in such a short time," one EU official said.
Exit polls showed the Conservative Party of Prime Minister Boris Johnson would enjoy a very clear majority of 86 seats in the British Parliament.
France welcomed Mr Johnson's apparently decisive victory, adding it could help ensure an orderly Brexit.
"If the exit poll results are confirmed, it should allow for a clear majority, something that has been missing in the United Kingdom for several years," European Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said.
"It's not for me to be relieved - or worried - but, along with the president, we've been saying for several months: 'We need clarity,'" she said, referring to French President Emmanuel Macron.
She said EU leaders would now discuss the mandate to negotiate the future relationship with Britain after the country's planned exit from the bloc at the end of January.
"The most important thing with Brexit is not the way we divorce, it's what we build afterwards," she said.
"If it's confirmed... we can assume he'll implement what he said he would do, that is to say, Brexit at end-January," one French diplomat said, adding that the EU wanted the future relationship with Britain to be as strong as possible.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Friday that the election results, according to the exit polls, meant Brexit would now materialise and that time was short to seal a new relationship deal between the EU and Britain.
"It is a very clear result - it will not change by tomorrow morning," Mr Lofven told reporters on leaving an EU summit in Brussels that Mr Johnson skipped.
"(It) means that we will move forward with our separation... we now have 11 months to hash out a deal. It's a very short time."
Britain and the EU have to negotiate a trade deal by the end of 2020 because that is when a transition period for Britain's withdrawal ends and when trade relations between London and its biggest trading partner - the EU - would revert to World Trade Organisation standards.
After the results confirmed a Conservative victory, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was among the first to congratulate Mr Johnson.
"New Zealand and the United Kingdom are close friends and despite our distance we are strongly connected by our history and people. I look forward to continuing to work with Prime Minister Johnson on a wide range of issues as he looks to progress Brexit. I have texted Prime Minister Johnson and offered him my congratulations," Ms Ardern said in a statement.
"I know that Prime Minister Johnson has an affinity with New Zealand having travelled here previously. We already share a commitment to launch negotiations towards a comprehensive and high quality free trade deal once the UK leaves the EU - something we discussed at the UN Leaders' Week in New York earlier this year," she said.
"Our many other common interests position us well to work together globally, including in the Pacific region and on climate change," she added.