John­son pre­pares Bri­tons for a no-deal Brexit

The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - PAUL WALDIE EUROPE CORRESPOND­ENT LON­DON

Prime Min­is­ter pro­vides lit­tle clar­ity on whether talks with EU will con­tinue or the state of new pan­demic mea­sures in tele­vised ad­dress

An at­tempt by Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son to pro­vide clar­ity on the two big­gest is­sues fac­ing the coun­try– the pan­demic and Brexit – has fallen flat and only raised more ques­tions about how Bri­tain will cope on both fronts this win­ter.

Fri­day was sup­posed to be a day of de­ci­sion for the Prime Min­is­ter. He was set to an­nounce whether trade talks with the Euro­pean Union would con­tinue and out­line plans to bring more of the U.K. un­der tight phys­i­cal-dis­tanc­ing re­stric­tions to stop the alarm­ing spread of COVID-19. He ended up pro­vid­ing lit­tle di­rec­tion.

On Br exit, Mr. John­son in­di­cated that trade talks with the EU had be­come point­less and he told the coun­try to pre­pare for a no-deal fu­ture. EU lead­ers “don’t seem to want to progress a free trade deal ,” he said dur­ing a tele­vised news con­fer­ence. “Un­less that fun­da­men­tally changes, we’re go­ing to have to come out on Aus­tralia terms. But we’ll pros­per might­ily none­the­less.” Aus­tralia has no trade agree­ment with the EU and in­stead fol­lows rules set by the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

But Mr. John­son also re­fused to say whether he was walk­ing away from the talks. “What we’re say­ing to them is ‘Only come here, come to us, if there’s some fun­da­men­tal change of ap­proach’,” he said.

That left busi­ness groups frus­trated with just 10 weeks to go be­fore the U.K. cuts its re­main­ing ties to the EU with­out any agree­ment on trade, trans­port, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and a host of other ar­eas. “This is no time to give up,” said a state­ment from Carolyn Fair­bairn, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Bri­tish In­dus­try. A deal is the only out­come that pro­tects COVID-hit liveli­hoods at a time when ev­ery job in ev­ery coun­try counts.”

The EU brushed aside Mr. John­son’s com­ments and said it was pre­pared to keep talk­ing. “As planned, our ne­go­ti­a­tion team will go to Lon­don next week to in­ten­sify these ne­go­ti­a­tions,” said a tweet from Ur­sula von der Leyen, head of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, which is the EU’ s ad­min­is­tra­tive body. It wasn’t clear if U.K. ne­go­tia­tors would par­tic­i­pate.

Bri­tain for­mally left the EU last Jan­uary but the coun­try has re­mained within the bloc’s sin­gle mar­ket as part of a tran­si­tion pe­riod. Both sides were to use the tran­si­tion to ne­go­ti­ate a trade deal and Mr. John­son had been push­ing for a com­pre­hen­sive pact sim­i­lar to the Canada-EU agree­ment. But the talks have stalled over fish­ing rights and reg­u­la­tions sur­round­ing state aid to in­dus­try. Bri­tish busi­ness lead­ers worry that they will face high EU tar­iff sand lengthy bor­der de­lays if no deal is reached.

On the pan­demic, Mr. John­son has been try­ing to roll out a new three-tier alert sys­tem for lock­down re­stric­tions across the coun­try. But his at­tempts to move some re­gions into the third tier have been met with fierce re­sis­tance from lo­cal may­ors. So far only Liver­pool and Lan­cashire in the north­west of Eng­land have been put on the high­est alert, which in­cludes se­vere re­stric­tions on so­cial mo­bil­ity and the clos­ing of nearly all pubs and bars.

The Prime Min­is­ter had been plan­ning to add the Manch­ester area to the list on Fri­day, but he was blocked by re­gional politi­cians who wanted more com­pen­sa­tion for af­fected busi­nesses. Cab­i­net min­is­ters “are ask­ing us to gam­ble our res­i­dents’ jobs, homes and busi­nesses and a large chunk of our econ­omy on a strat­egy that their own ex­perts tell them might not work,” said a state­ment from Andy Burn­ham, the Mayor of Greater Manch­ester.

Mr. John­son said Fri­day that he still wanted lo­cal co-op­er­a­tion. “Our ef­forts would be so much more ef­fec­tive if we work to­gether,” he said. “Of course, if agree­ment can­not be reached I will need to in­ter­vene in or­der to pro­tect Manch­ester’s hos­pi­tals and save the lives of Manch­ester’s res­i­dents.”

There was also con­fu­sion about the re­stric­tions in Liver­pool and Lan­cashire. While gyms in Liver­pool have been or­dered closed, they re­main open in nearby Lan­cashire. That prompted com­plaints from Liver­pool’s Mayor, Joe An­der­son. “In­con­sis­tent mess,” he wrote on Twit­ter. “We now have Tier 3 A and Tier 3 B. Are gym users in Lan­cashire more safe than those in Liver­pool Re­gion?”

All of this came as new fig­ures showed the virus was spread­ing at a rapid rate. Stud­ies re­leased on Fri­day by Sir Pa­trick Val­lance, the gov­ern­ment’s chief sci­en­tific ad­viser, es­ti­mated that there could be as many as 74,000 new in­fec­tions ev­ery day. Sir Pa­trick added that hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions in some re­gions have climbed above the lev­els seen dur­ing the last the peak of the pan­demic in April.

Some sci­en­tists have called for a two-week na­tional lock­down sim­i­lar to the one im­posed last spring. Mr. John­son wouldn’t rule it out but he said that for now “we think the lo­cal ap­proach is the best one.”


Lon­don­ers make their way through the city’s fi­nan­cial dis­trict in July. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son’s re­fusal to say whether he was walk­ing away from talks with the EU has left busi­ness groups frus­trated, with just 10 weeks to go be­fore the U.K. cuts its re­main­ing ties.

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