Richmond Times-Dispatch

‘Strong possibilit­y’ Brexit talks will fail, Johnson says

British, EU leaders tell their citizens to brace for Jan. 1 jolt

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BRUSSELS— With a chaotic and costly no-deal Brexit three weeks away, leaders of both the European Union and United Kingdom saw an ever likelier collapse of trade talks Thursday, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson even spoke of a “strong possibilit­y” of failure.

Both sides told their citizens to brace for a New Year’s shock, as trade between the U.K. and the European mainland could face its biggest upheaval in almost a half century.

Johnson’s gloomy comments came as negotiator­s sought to find a belated breakthrou­gh in technical talks, where their leaders failed three times in political discussion­s over the past week.

Facing a Sunday deadline set after inconclusi­ve talks Wednesday night between EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Johnson, both sides realized their drawn-out four-year divorce might well end on bad terms.

“I do think we need to be very very clear, there is now a strong possibilit­y — a strong possibilit­y — that we will have a solution that is much more like an Australian relationsh­ip with the EU,” Johnson said, using his phrasing for a no-deal exit.

Australia does not have a free trade deal with the 27-nation EU.

“That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing,” Johnson added.

On the EU side, reactions were equally pessimisti­c.

“I am a bit more gloomy today, as far as I can hear,” Swedish

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said at a EU summit where von der Leyen briefed the 27 leaders on her unsuccessf­ul dinner with Johnson.

“She was not really confident that all difficulti­es could be resolved,” said David Sassoli, president of the EU parliament that will have to approve any deal brokered.

A cliff-edge departure would threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs and cost tens of billions of dollars in commerce.

To prepare for a sudden exit on Jan. 1, the EUon Thursday proposed four contingenc­y measures to make sure that at least air and road traffic would continue as smoothly as possible between both sides for the next six months.

It also proposed that fishermen should still have access to each other’s waters for up to a year, to limit the commercial damage of a no-deal split. The plans depend on the U.K. offering similar initiative­s. The move was indicative of how the EU saw a bad breakup as ever more realistic.

Johnson warned that “yes, now is the time for the public and businesses to get ready for January 1, because, believe me, there’s going to be change either way.”

For months now, trade talks have faltered on Britain’s insistence that as a sovereign nation it must not be bound indefinite­ly to EU rules and regulation­s — even if it wants to export freely to the bloc. That same steadfastn­ess has marked the EU in preserving its cherished

single market and seeking guarantees against a lowregulat­ion neighbor that would be able to undercut its businesses.

After Johnson’s midnight return to London, reactions were equally dim there.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Sunday deadline was a “moment of finality” — though he added “you can never say never entirely.”

In four years of talks on the U.K.’s departure terms and a future trade relationsh­ip, such selfimpose­d deadlines have been broken time and again since Britain voted to leave the EU.

Jan. 1, though, is different, since the U.K, has made the 11-month transition time since its Jan. 31 official departure legally binding.

“There are big ideologica­l, substantiv­e and policy gaps that need to be bridged,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe managing director for the Eurasia Group. “They’re so far apart and the time is so limited now.”

Months of trade talks have failed to bridge the gaps on three issues — fishing rights, faircompet­ition rules and the governance of future disputes.

“I still hope that we will find a solution but it’s half-half,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, before adding: “I prefer no deal than a bad deal.”

 ?? PHOTOS BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? French President Emmanuel Macron (center) spokewith Hungarian PrimeMinis­ter Viktor Orban (right) at a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday. The leaders were discussing a variety of topics, including a troubled trade deal with Britain.
PHOTOS BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS French President Emmanuel Macron (center) spokewith Hungarian PrimeMinis­ter Viktor Orban (right) at a European Union summit in Brussels on Thursday. The leaders were discussing a variety of topics, including a troubled trade deal with Britain.
 ??  ?? European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed British PrimeMinis­ter Boris Johnson at EU headquarte­rs in Brussels onWednesda­y. British and EU officials on Thursday said they feared a chaotic economic rupturewil­l begin at the end of the month.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed British PrimeMinis­ter Boris Johnson at EU headquarte­rs in Brussels onWednesda­y. British and EU officials on Thursday said they feared a chaotic economic rupturewil­l begin at the end of the month.

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