The UK will have to reach a Brexit deal by October 2018, according to the EU’s chief negotiator for Brexit.

Michel Barnier told reporters that “time will be short” for negotiations because the proposed deal needed to be ratified as part of the two year process set to be triggered in March.

He said a taskforce of 30 people had been set up to make sure the EU would “be ready” when Article 50 was called.

He warned against “cherry picking” on issues such as the single market.

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Speaking at the press conference in Brussels, Mr Barnier said: “Time will be short. It is clear the period for actual negotiations will be shorter than two years.

“At the beginning, the two years included the time for the council to set guidelines and to authorise negotiations. At the end, the agreement must of course be approved by the Council and European Parliament. Finally the UK will have to approve the agreement – all within the two year period.

“All in all there will be less than 18 months to negotiate. That is short. Should the UK notify by the end of March as Prime Minister Theresa May said she would, it is safe to say negotiations could start a few weeks later and an article 50 reached by Oct 2018.”