Boris Johnson has told Britain to “get ready” for a no-deal Brexit in January, as last-ditch negotiations failed to result in a trade deal.
The prime minister said this week’s summit in Brussels has made clear the EU is not prepared to offer the kind of Canada-style deal the UK is seeking.
Number 10 went further, telling reporters that talks were now “over” and that “there’s no point” in any further discussion.
“They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries, in a way that is obviously unacceptable to an independent country,” he said.
“Given that this summit appears to explicitly rule out a Canada-style deal, I think that we should ready for January 1 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s.”
Australia does not have a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, which means most commerce is conducted on World Trade Organisation rules with tariffs on many goods as well as some quota restrictions and customs checks.
The Australia solution
Asked if he is now walking away from the negotiating table, Mr Johnson said: “What we are saying to them is, ‘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 – social security issues, road haulage and so on.
“But unless there is a fundamental change in approach, we are going to go for the Australia solution.
“And we should do it with great confidence – as I said, high hearts and confidence because we can do it.”
The prime minister’s announcement came after the summit conclusions agreed on Thursday called on the UK to make the “necessary moves to make an agreement possible”.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he is ready to travel to London on Monday to continue the negotiations.
But Number 10 questioned the purpose of his visit on Friday afternoon, with the PM’s spokesman saying: “There is only any point in Michel Barnier coming to London next week if he’s prepared to discuss all of the issues on the basis of legal text in an accelerated way without the UK being required to make all the moves.
“If not, there is no point in coming.”
‘The EU continues to work for a deal’
Despite the comments, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the visit will still go ahead as planned.
“The EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any price,” she tweeted.
“As planned, our negotiation team will go to London next week to intensify these negotiations.”
CBI director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said it is essential not to give up on a deal.
“Neither side can afford to fall at the final fence,” she said. “A deal is the only outcome that protects Covid-hit livelihoods at a time when every job in every country counts.
“With tenacity, common sense and compromise, a deal is still possible.
“Businesses call on leaders on both sides to stay at the table and find a route through.”
Sturgeon ‘depressed by prospect of no deal’
Nicola Sturgeon has said she feels “deeply frustrated and depressed” by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit while the UK is still dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I feel deeply frustrated and depressed at the prospect of no-deal at the end of the transition period in December.
“That said, being realistic, any deal that is struck right now is going to be such a bare-minimum deal that there is going to be disruption.
“I find it very, very frustrating at a time when all of us should be giving – and I am seeking to do as much as I possibly can – 100% of our time and focus and energy to Covid.”
The First Minister said she is confident the Scottish Government can cope with the implications of a no-deal Brexit, which she said could be “huge”.
She added: “Make no mistake, resources are finite and every civil servant or every hour of my time that has to be spent right now thinking about the implications of a no-deal Brexit or a bare-minimum deal Brexit is a civil servant or an hour of my time that is not focused, as it should be, on trying to steer the country through the Covid pandemic.”