Boris Johnson hints UK could remain in EU single market and customs union until 2021 in bid to avoid cliff edge exit
- Boris Johnson has suggested a negotiated Brexit deal with the EU is still possible
- He made the comments in Wales but insisted the UK would leave by October 31
- The Prime Minister has adopted a hardline stance since entering No 10 last week
Britain could remain in the customs union and single market for another two years after Brexit, Boris Johnson said yesterday – as he suggested a negotiated deal with Brussels was still possible.
The PM had earlier clashed with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar over his demand to ‘abolish’ the controversial backstop.
But later, on a visit to Wales, he indicated that other elements of Theresa May’s withdrawal deal could be revived – including a transition period designed to soften the impact on business of leaving the EU.
Boris Johnson said yesterday that Britain could remain in the customs union and single market for another two years after Brexit
Mr Johnson repeated his determination to deliver Brexit by October 31 and said it would be the EU’s fault if the UK ended up leaving without a deal. ‘It is their call,’ he said. ‘It is up to them if they want us to do this.’
The new Prime Minister has adopted a hardline stance since entering No 10 last week, ordering his ministers to focus on preparing the UK for a potential No Deal Brexit this autumn.
Sajid Javid is expected to confirm this week that he has released at least an extra £1billion for No Deal preparations.
Could Johnson hand farmers a £500million No Deal bailout?
Eurosceptic voters were warned by Boris Johnson yesterday they risk ‘cancelling’ the referendum result if they back the Brexit Party in a crunch by-election.
Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, the Prime Minister urged leave supporters not to abandon the Conservatives as they fight to hold on to the seat.
The Liberal Democrats are strongly tipped to overturn the Tories’ 8,038 majority, after Plaid Cymru and the Greens stepped aside in a so-called ‘Remain alliance’ electoral deal to maximise support for a pro-EU candidate. Losing the seat would slash Mr Johnson’s Commons majority to just one.
The Prime Minister, who made a brief visit to the Welsh constituency yesterday, appealed to Leave supporters not to split the Eurosceptic vote by peeling off to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. ‘A vote for any party other than the Conservatives pushes the Liberal Democrats one step closer to cancelling the referendum result,’ he said.
The by-election was sparked after sitting Tory MP Chris Davies admitted making a false expenses claim.
But, in comments that risk unnerving some Eurosceptics, Mr Johnson yesterday suggested he was still pursuing a Brexit transition lasting potentially until the middle of 2021.
He said: ‘Some of the (No Deal) changes that are going to be necessary in the run-up to October 31 will be crucial anyway if we are going to come out of the customs union and single market, as we must, in the course of the next couple of years.’
A Whitehall source confirmed Mr Johnson was outlining the situation if he succeeds in securing a deal ‘with an implementation period’. ‘There has been a big shift,’ the source said.
‘In the past there was a lot of money for No Deal which would have been written off if we had got the former PM’s deal because it was very close to the customs union and single market.
‘Now we are looking at something much more like Canada plus, so we will need a new customs regime and so on regardless because our future relationship will be much looser.’
However, the prospects of a deal of any kind appeared to recede further yesterday after Mr Varadkar rejected Mr Johnson’s demand to ditch the backstop that is designed to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Mr Johnson has faced accusations of ‘snubbing’ the Irish PM after failing to speak to him during his first six days in office.
When the two men finally spoke by phone yesterday, Mr Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to upholding the Good Friday Agreement and said he would ‘never’ put physical checks or infrastructure on the border.
The PM had earlier clashed with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) over his demand to ‘abolish’ the controversial backstop
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister made clear that the Government will approach any negotiations which take place with determination and energy, and in a spirit of friendship, and that his clear preference is to leave the EU with a deal, but it must be one that abolishes the backstop.’
Raab: Let’s train sights on trade in ‘new horizons’ outside EU
Britain has spent too long focusing on trade with Europe – and must now ‘expand its horizons’ after Brexit, Dominic Raab said yesterday.
Speaking ahead of a trip to south-east Asia, the Foreign Secretary suggested exporters would have to seek out new markets in the wake of the UK’s departure from the EU. ‘For too long, our trade focus has been on Europe. We need to expand our horizons and raise our game,’ he said.
‘That means grasping the enormous global opportunities for the UK – and my first trip as Foreign Secretary will look to strengthen our friendships across Asia.’ Mr Raab said there were opportunities to boost the £36billion worth of business the UK does with south-east Asia. The figure dwarfs the value of Britain’s trade with Europe.
His comments came as International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said striking a post-Brexit deal with the US would be her ‘number one priority’.
Speaking after talks in London with US Ambassador Woody Johnson, she said deals are being ‘fast-tracked’ that could produce ‘golden opportunities’ for the economy. Miss Truss is expected to visit the US in the coming weeks, but no agreement can be negotiated until the UK has left the EU.
But Mr Varadkar said the alternative arrangements to keep the border free flowing had ‘yet to be identified and demonstrated’.
A Dublin spokesman said: The Taoiseach emphasised to the Prime Minister that the backstop was necessary as a consequence of decisions taken in the UK and by the UK Government.’
Mr Varadkar invited Mr Johnson to visit Dublin for talks, but government sources indicated there were no plans for him to do so.
The Mail revealed this week that Mr Johnson has decided against holding face-to-face talks with EU leaders about Brexit until the backstop is ditched.
Last night Brussels officials said they will not concede ground over the backstop and that No Deal on October 31 is now the bloc’s ‘main assumption’.
One senior eurocrat said yesterday: ‘Even if miraculously he could negotiate a new deal by the beginning of, say September, with the EU miraculously willing to engage with that, it will still not be feasible to leave … on October 31, due to the time it would need to pass in the Commons.
‘No Deal is indeed the main assumption now.’ Another official said Brussels believes it is unlikely Mr Johnson will ask for an extension at an EU summit on October 17 ‘because his credibility would be completely lost’.
Mr Johnson travelled to Northern Ireland last night ahead of talks today aimed at trying to restore the Stormont assembly, which has been suspended since January 2017.
Ministers have been warned that the Government could have to impose direct rule from London in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
Could Johnson hand farmers a £500million No Deal bailout?
Boris Johnson is considering a £500million farming industry bailout if a No Deal Brexit cuts off access to European markets.
It came after the PM was accused yesterday of ‘playing Russian roulette’ with the sheep farming sector, which exports 40 per cent of its output to the EU.
Welsh farming groups have warned of ‘civil unrest’ if he presses ahead with No Deal, which would lead to the imposition of 40 per cent tariffs on lamb exports, effectively killing the market.
But speaking on a visit to a poultry farm near Newport, Mr Johnson insisted he was focused on trying to achieve a new agreement, saying: ‘We are not aiming for a No Deal Brexit and I don’t think that’s where we are going to end up.’ But he acknowledged that British agriculture would need support in the event of No Deal and said ministers were already working on a package of financial support.
‘We’ll make sure they have the support they need,’ he said. ‘If their markets are going to be tricky, then we will help them to find new markets. We have interventions that are aimed to support their incomes.’
Mr Johnson is considering proposals drawn up by Michael Gove, the former environment secretary who is now in charge of Whitehall No Deal planning, the government would agree to buy excess lamb and beef at the point of slaughter at a pre-determined price.
The commitment is expected to cost the Treasury about £500million a year and could also cover some arable crops.
But farmers’ leaders fear that leaving the EU without a deal would wreck parts of the sector.
Helen Roberts, of the National Sheep Association in Wales, called on Mr Johnson to ‘stop playing Russian roulette with the industry, which he appears to be doing at the moment’. Asked about the possibility of civil unrest among sheep producers, including roadblocks and tractor protests, she told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘I think they will, I think it’s time to come and stand up for ourselves and be counted.’
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, who held talks with Mr Johnson yesterday, said Brexit would be ‘catastrophic for Wales’.
He added: ‘It will decimate our agricultural and manufacturing sectors and risks ripping the union apart,’ he said. ‘The PM must stop playing fast and loose with our country.’
But Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns pointed out voters in Wales had backed Brexit in the referendum. He suggested farmers could look to new export markets such as Japan, although critics pointed out that Tokyo has not yet agreed to roll over the benefits of its trade deal with the EU to the UK after Brexit.