Following the UK general election, we welcome the British Government's intention to ratify the withdrawal agreement as soon as possible. This is a key step to enable an orderly withdrawal and to move on to the future EU-UK relationship discussions. The European Council discussed the future relationship on 13 December, and adopted conclusions on preparations for negotiations. The Deputy can be assured that we have been preparing for those negotiations for quite some time.
Once the UK has left the EU, the European Commission will present a draft negotiating mandate on the future relationship for the Council to consider. The Commission has established a task force for relations with the UK, led by Mr. Michel Barnier, to co-ordinate work on Brexit. Having Mr. Barnier leading these efforts is something that Ireland is very strongly supportive of. Meetings of the European Council, the General Affairs Council and the Committee of the Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States to the European Union, COREPER, assisted by a dedicated working party, will ensure that the negotiations are conducted in line with European Council guidelines.
Ireland wants to see the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK while also ensuring level playing field provisions to facilitate fair competition. We will be engaged in all stages of the negotiations to ensure that Ireland's priorities and interests are appropriately reflected in the EU’s position.
The negotiations will be challenging, as is the timeline. The transition period, which lasts until the end of 2020 may be extended once, by mutual agreement, for up to two years. A decision on extension is needed by 1 July 2020, and I note that the UK may not wish to extend. In any event, I would stress that the EU will work hard to secure a successful outcome to the negotiations whatever the timeframe. Our focus will be on content. I do not believe the EU will be rushed by any new legislation in Westminster, one way or the other. The EU will focus on content and getting the right deal as opposed to timelines.
Substantial work will also be required during the transition period to finalise a range of issues arising relating to the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, including the implementation of the protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland. Preparedness work for all possible Brexit outcomes will continue to be important in the phase ahead.
Protecting Ireland's interests will require a continued whole-of-government effort underpinned by the same cohesive approach that has characterised our Brexit strategy from the start. We will continue to build on our strong relations with the task force, Commission and member states and engage with Oireachtas Members and stakeholders across the island. I hope that regardless of what happens next year in terms of a general election here, we will maintain a cohesive approach in this House to get the best possible deal from an Irish perspective through the next round of negotiation.