Boris Johnson put the UK on high alert for a No Deal Brexit today as he accused the EU of ‘effectively ending’ trade negotiations.
The Prime Minister came close to washing his hands of the talks altogether, sending a stark message that the bloc will have to ‘come to us’ with concessions if any more progress is to be made.
Mr Johnson made clear Michel Barnier should only bother travelling to London next week if he has a ‘fundamental change of approach’, declaring the UK will now step up its preparations for ‘Australia-style’ WTO terms.
However, he stopped short of formally axing the next round of meetings – with EU officials gloating that despite the rhetoric he had dropped his own ‘hard’ deadline for getting an agreement.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen insisted Mr Barnier would attend the negotiations this week ‘as planned’.
Mr Johnson had set the European Council summit yesterday as a key moment for assessing whether there was a deal to be done.
But negotiations remain locked in stalemate in a number of key areas, including on post-Brexit fishing rights, as EU leaders last night refused to budge and said it is for the UK to make the next move.
The two sides now appear to be engaged in a high-stakes game of brinkmanship as the clock ticks down to the end of the post-Brexit transition period in December.
Ms von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, responded to Mr Johnson’s intervention by claiming formal trade talks will still go ahead in London next week.
She tweeted: ‘EU-UK talks: 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.’
Boris Johnson today told the EU to ‘come to us’ when it ready to compromise on the terms of a post-Brexit trade deal as he said the UK will now step up preparations for a disorderly split
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen responded to Mr Johnson’s comments by saying talks will still go ahead in London next week
Mr Johnson suggested last month that both sides should walk away from the talks and prepare for a no deal divorce if there was no agreement by the summit on October 15.
EU leaders declined to bow to the deadline as they last night signalled their willingness for discussions to continue but gave no ground.
In a text adopted by the leaders on the day of the PM’s deadline, they ‘invited’ the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier to continue talks while urging the UK to ‘make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible’.
Mr Johnson delivered a hardline response to the bloc this afternoon and said the UK will now step up its efforts to prepare for a no deal split as he also kept the door open to talks continuing if the EU changes tack.
He said: ‘As far as I can see they have abandoned the idea of a free trade deal. There doesn’t seem to be any progress coming from Brussels.
‘What we are saying to them is only come here, come to us, if there is some fundamental change of approach, otherwise we are more than happy to talk about the practicalities that I described, the social security issues, road haulage and so on.
‘But unless there is a fundamental change of approach we are going to go for the Australia solution and we should do it with great confidence, high hearts, confidence, because we can do it.’
Australia has no comprehensive trade deal with the EU and it also does far less business with Brussels than the UK.
A no deal split would see the EU impose tariffs on UK goods, with business groups warning this would damage British firms at a time when they can least afford it because of the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Johnson said what the EU wanted the UK to agree to in key negotiating areas was ‘completely unacceptable’.
‘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 said.
‘To judge by the latest EU summit in Brussels, that won’t work for our EU partners.
‘They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries, in a way that is completely unacceptable to an independent country.
‘And since we have only 10 weeks until the end of the transition period on January 1 I have to make a judgement about the likely outcome and to get us all ready.
‘Given that they have refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months and given that this summit appears explicitly to rule out a Canada-style deal I have concluded that we should get ready for January 1 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade.’
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman went even further, saying: ‘The trade talks are over. The EU have effectively ended them by saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position.
‘The EU can either fundamentally change its position or we can leave on Australian terms.’
The spokesman said there was ‘no point in trade talks if the EU doesn’t change its position’.
He added: ‘There is only any point in Michel Barnier coming to London next week if he is prepared to discuss all of the issues on the basis of legal text in an accelerate way, without the UK being required to make all of the moves or if he is willing to discuss the practicality of areas such as travel and haulage which the PM mentioned in his statement.’
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage appeared to welcome Mr Johnson’s comments as he tweeted: ‘A Canada-style deal was always impossible given the withdrawal agreement. Boris now reaching the right solution.’
But Remain campaigners reacted with anger as the Best for Britain group said ‘the EU has not abandoned the idea of a free trade deal with us and it would be the Prime Minister’s decision to abandon these talks’.
The group said: ‘The EU has signalled its desire to carry on talks. Walking away now would be a hideous gamble with the country’s future.’
The Liberal Democrats said Mr Johnson’s ‘reckless comments are just further evidence of the Prime Minister’s incompetence’ and ‘we cannot afford to crash out of the EU without a deal in place or to accept a rushed, bad deal’.
Mr Johnson’s comments represented a significant toughening of the UK’s stance after Lord Frost branded the response agreed by Brussels last night as ‘unusual’.
He tweeted: ‘Disappointed by the European Council conclusions on UK/EU negotiations.
‘(I’m) surprised the EU is no longer committed to working ‘intensively’ to reach a future partnership as agreed with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on October 3.
‘Also surprised by the suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come from the UK. It’s an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation.’
In a call with Ms von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel on the eve of the summit, Mr Johnson expressed ‘disappointment’ that the talks had not made more progress.
However, there remains scepticism in Brussels that Mr Johnson will actually deliver on his threat to pull the plug on the negotiations.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte appeared to mock his counterpart yesterday as he said: ‘Britain has already imposed so many deadlines that came and went.’
Meanwhile, Mr Michel told a press conference that Brussels would decide in the coming days, based on the UK’s next proposals, whether a deal is possible.
Emmanuel Macron said he will not allow French fishermen to be ‘sacrificed to Brexit’ as he stuck to his negotiating red line on access to UK waters
This map shows the extent of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone – the waters Britain will take back control of after Brexit. At the moment the EEZ of every EU member state is merged into one large zone which can be accessed by fishermen from all over Europe.
‘We are clear that we are determined to negotiate, we are determined to reach an agreement but we know there are some difficult topics,’ he said.
‘It is the case for fisheries, certainly, and also for level playing field and also governance.
‘We are united and we will make an assessment in the next days, we will see if it is possible to complete a negotiation, what will be the country’s (the UK’s) proposal and based on that we will make an assessment.’
Both sides want a deal to be agreed before the winter in order to allow time for it to be ratified and implemented before the end of the transition period.
Should no agreement be struck then the UK will trade with the bloc on World Trade Organisation terms from January 2021.
The Government has repeatedly described this approach as an Australia-style arrangement but critics insist that is just another way of saying there will be no trade deal.
The UK and the EU have acknowledged that the question of post-Brexit fishing rights remains among the most difficult issues to be resolved.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who is under pressure from fishermen in his country who fear losing access to British waters, yesterday stuck to his hardline on the issue.
‘Under any circumstance, our fishermen should not be sacrificed for Brexit,’ he said.
‘If these conditions are not met, it’s possible we won’t have a deal. If the right terms can’t be found at the end of these discussions, we’re ready for a no-deal for our future relations.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab today urged the EU to show more ‘flexibility’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘There’s a deal to be done, but there needs to be flexibility on both sides, energy and goodwill and political will on both sides, and the Prime Minister will say more (today).’
He said the Government was ‘surprised by the attitude and the disposition’ of the European Council.
He added: ‘I’m surprised and disappointed by the lack of flexibility and will that at least seems to have come out of the European Council.’