Prepare for no deal on 1 January, warns No 10
The prime minister claimed yesterday that there would be no more trade and security talks unless the EU adopted a “fundamental change of approach”, as he sought to increase pressure on Brussels to give ground in the negotiations.
In a dramatic televised statement, Boris Johnson warned the UK would have to prepare for a no-deal scenario on 1 January, with his spokesman further toughening up the rhetoric later in the day.
“The trade talks are over – the EU have effectively ended them yesterday when they said they did not want to change their
negotiating position,” the spokesman said, while stopping short of announcing the UK’s intention to decisively walk away.
But Downing Street’s bravado was swiftly undermined in Brussels, where officials and leaders leaving an EU summit said they had no reason to believe the negotiations would not continue.
The European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted: “The EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any price. As planned, our negotiation team will go to London next week to intensify these negotiations.”
The olive branch was quickly rebuffed by Downing Street with the UK chief negotiator, David Frost, telling his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, in a phone call yesterday afternoon that there was no need to come to London on Monday.
A Downing Street spokesman said Lord Frost had told him there was “no basis for negotiations in London as of
Monday” unless the EU came up with a new plan over the weekend.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, suggested Johnson’s call for intensive talks and compromise, both of which he said were on offer, was simply an invitation to continue with the negotiations, despite Johnson’s claim that this summit had been his deadline for a deal. He said: “I look with a positive sense to Boris Johnson’s reaction now that he is implicitly stating that he also now wants the talks to continue.”
Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, said: “We intend to focus on the negotiations and these negotiations will continue in the next few days.”
In his statement, Johnson said that with only 10 weeks left until the Brexit transition period ended, he had to make a judgment about the likely outcome and to prepare the country.
“A lot of progress has been made on such issues as social security and aviation, nuclear cooperation, and so on,” he said, but “for whatever reason, it’s clear from the [EU] summit that after 45 years of [UK] membership they are not willing, unless there’s some fundamental change of approach, to offer this country the same terms as Canada”.
“I concluded that we should get ready for 1 January with arrangements that are more like Australia’s – based on simple principles of global free trade,” he told reporters in the pooled broadcast statement.
Johnson’s spokesman later said there was “only any point in Michel Barnier coming to London next week” if he undertook talks on the basis set out by Johnson, discussing all areas of contention and working on legal text.
But such a change in approach was already evident yesterday, following a two-hour discussion by EU leaders the previous day on the bloc’s flexibility, during which they were made to hand over their tablets and phones to avoid leaks.
President Emmanuel Macron of France accused No 10 of using fisheries tactically and insisted it was not his job to make the British prime minister “happy”, but he conceded that the post-Brexit arrangements for British seas would not maintain the status quo for the EU fishing fleet.
“If there is a deal, it must allow us to define the modalities of access for our fishermen to British waters,” he said. “Will the situation be the same as it is today? No, it will not, that’s for sure. Our fishermen know it. We know that too. We are going to help them.
“We need to have a compromise on access, but we know it will not be of the same nature. It won’t be as ambitious. It will come with conditions, perhaps we will have to pay for it.”
Merkel said the EU should find a way to accommodate the UK’s wish to diverge from the EU rule book, while ensuring fair competition.
“If we want to have an agreement, then both sides need to make a move towards each other,” she said. “We need to react quickly. We can’t mutually rule out that each of us has different rules to a certain extent.”
Rutte later said of his fellow leaders’ comments: “The positive of the last two days is the EU has, by implication, signalled we’re ready to compromise, which has always been our position.
“We will not get 100% of what we want, that’s impossible in a negotiation, you always have to find compromise, you always have to find ways within the mandate Michel Barnier has received from the European council … He is a skilled negotiator, he will be able to explore where within the mandate there is room for compromise and that room is there.”
The financial services industry expressed its deep disappointment at the “political game of chicken” over Brexit.
Catherine McGuinness, the policy chair at the City of London Corporation, said that businesses and households on both sides of the Channel “stand to be the main losers”.
‘We should get ready for 1 January with arrangements more like Australia’s – based on principles of global free trade’
Boris Johnson Speaking yesterday
▲ Emmanuel Macron, centre, at the Brussels summit. He said it was not his job to make Boris Johnson happy