Brussels/London, 16 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) — Britain will leave the EU single market at the end of the year without a comprehensive trade deal in place “unless there’s some fundamental change of approach” from the EU side, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Friday.
“I concluded that we should get ready for Jan. 1st with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade,” he said, in a reference to minimalist World Trade Organization rules.
Both sides had expressed their disappointment with progress in talks in recent days, and accuse each other intransigence.
The British premier left the door open for talks to continue in his short statement. “What we’re saying to them is only come here, come to us if there’s some fundamental change of approach,” Johnson said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen brushed off the threat, tweeting that the EU would intensify negotiations with a team going to London next week as planned.
“The EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any price,” the commission chief, who currently is in coronavirus quarantine, wrote.
With Britain due to leave a post-Brexit transition period at the end of the year, talks have been frustrated by disagreement on fisheries, assurances on environmental and social standards, and governance of potential disputes.
Last month, Johnson said that the mid-October EU summit — currently under way in Brussels — was the last realistic chance to clinch a deal given that both sides need to ratify any agreement.
Johnson’s announcement came after a spat over a statement from EU leaders calling on Britain “to make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible.”
On Jan. 1, the EU’s regulatory regime will cease to apply in Britain and a deal — if it is struck — would set out the new rules governing everything from customs checks and data-sharing to police cooperation.
A no-deal scenario would lead to serious economic disruption, affecting businesses and supply chains on both sides.
Brussels fears London will undercut it in business by loosening often-costly rules on environmental protection or labour rights—commonly known as “dumping.” London refutes this, and insists it has not left the EU only to be bound by its regulatory regime.
The EU also wants a trade deal to be contingent on continued fishing rights access, while Johnson wants British waters to be reserved chiefly for domestic exploitation.
Britain has so far based its negotiating mandate largely on the free trade deal Brussels struck with Canada – an agreement seen as a landmark in terms of the access offered, despite falling short of the blanket removal of tariffs and quotas the EU is offering London.
Brussels insists, however, that Britain’s proximity and economic interdependence means that London would have to meet far higher level playing field safeguards than those required of Canada.
If London cannot strike the kind of deal it wants, Johnson said Britain’s relationship with the EU could instead look similar to Australia’s.
Australia has no bespoke deal with the EU and trades on basic World Trade Organization terms, meaning both sides must contend with tariffs, quotas and other hurdles.
“From the outset we were totally clear that we wanted nothing more complicated than a Canada-style relationship based on friendship and free trade,” Johnson 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.”