In Depth

Is this the day Boris Johnson committed the UK to a no-deal Brexit?

PM says Britain will revert to WTO rules unless EU shows ‘fundamental change’ in attitude

Little more than a week ago, senior cabinet ministers were claiming that Britain had a 66% chance of walking away from the negotiating table in Brussels with a trade agreement.

But those odds appeared to have plummeted today, as Boris Johnson laid out plans for the UK to leave the EU without a deal unless “there is a fundamental change of approach” from the bloc.

The prime minister said the EU was not willing to offer a Canada-style trade deal and that the UK should prepare for an “Australia solution” - namely, no-deal.

‘Refused to negotiate’

Speaking from Downing Street following two days of talks at a crunch summit in Brussels, Johnson said that the EU had “abandoned the idea of a free trade deal” and has “refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months”.

“From the outset, we were totally clear that we wanted nothing more complicated than a Canada-style relationship based on friendship and free trade”, he continued, but “to judge by the latest EU summit in Brussels, that won’t work for our EU partners”.

Accusing the EU27 of wanting “the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries, in a way that is completely unacceptable to an independent country”, Johnson said the UK should now “get ready for 1 January with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade”.

Australia vs. Canada

Canada trades with the EU under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which took seven years to negotiate. The deal came into effect in 2017, and will be fully implemented over seven years.

The arrangement eliminates 98% of all tariffs on goods, but does not remove regulatory barriers as Canada is not a member of the single market. As such, Canadian products are still subject to border checks.

However, Johnson today claimed that “it’s becoming clear that the EU don’t want to do the type of Canada deal that we originally asked for”, adding that it is “curious that after 45 years of membership, they can offer Canada terms they wouldn’t offer us”. 

Instead, the PM has said that the UK would now be prepared to leave the EU on Australia-style terms.

Australia currently trades with the EU on WTO terms, which means an Australia-style deal is “another way of saying the UK would leave with no trade deal in place”, according to the BBC

That point has been reiterated by several experts and commentator, “who have taken issue with the prime minister’s choice of language” when announcing the negotiating stalemate today, says The Independent.

LBC radio presenter Natasha Devon tweeted:“Just a reminder that ‘Australian-style deal’ is an unnecessarily complex way of saying ‘no deal’. Absolutely no deal whatsoever. Nothing. Nada.”

And that means “we’re screwed”, she added.

So this the end of negotations?

Asked by press whether he was set to walk away from the talks, Johnson said that “if there’s a fundamental change of approach, of course we’re always willing to listen”. But he caveated that the signs “didn’t seem particularly encouraging from the summit in Brussels yesterday and today”.

“What we’re saying to [the EU] is ‘Only come here, come to us, if there’s some fundamental change of approach’,” he added.

Meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has moved to “downplay” the no-deal rhetoric, The Guardian says.

This afternoon she 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.”

Earlier today, Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been given the “necessary flexibility” to continue Brexit deal talks.

But Johnson’s message to prepare for a no-deal exit came with the warning that Downing Street has “to make a judgement about the likely outcome and to get us all ready”.

“Despite the hardline rhetoric, Johnson did not say that the UK would pull out of Brexit negotiations, which are due to resume in London next week,” The Times notes.

But after failing yet again to secure an agreement recently tipped to be on the verge of completion, “he suggested that the government would change its emphasis and assume that a deal would not be reached”, the paper adds.


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