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UK election cuts time for Brexit talks, key EU lawmaker says

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The snap general election called by British Prime Minister Theresa May will reduce the already limited time available to negotiate a Brexit deal, an influential EU lawmaker said on Monday.

Danuta Hubner, chair of the constitutional committee of the European Parliament poses after an interview in Brussels, Belgium April 24, 2017. Reuters/Eric Vidal

Britain has only two years from March 29 to get a wide-ranging divorce settlement and the June 8 election will take a chunk of time away, said Danuta Hubner who chairs the constitutional affairs committee at the European Parliament which has the power to veto any final Brexit deal.

“There will be an issue probably of ... how much time the elections will take away from the time that we have for negotiations. That’s a challenge. I think we can all hope that this will not mean a big delay,” Hubner told Reuters.

The European Commission, which will lead the talks with Britain, has said the negotiations were always meant to start in June and the snap election will not change that.

Hubner, whose committee must approve the deal before it goes to parliament for a final vote, said a trade deal would take many more years, as formal talks could not start during the two-year divorce negotiations while Britain is still an EU member.

It usually takes about five years for the EU to reach a trade deal and several more for it to be implemented, so transitional arrangements may be needed in the interim, she said.

EU negotiators have repeatedly said they want substantial progress on a Brexit deal on citizens’ rights, the Irish border and financial liabilities before any discussions on future relations with Britain.

Hubner said she did not expect “a major disagreement” on the amount Britain would have to pay to settle its financial liabilities, but guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and of Britons in the EU could be trickier as that will touch on social security and pensions, among other things.

Parliament will adopt a new resolution on citizens’ rights, most likely in September.

Even without Britain, English will remain the most common language in EU meetings, Hubner said, discarding doubts she had raised after the Brexit referendum.

“It’s hard to imagine that another language will replace English as the most commonly used in meetings in Europe,” she said.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Robin Pomeroy