Boris Johnson says no-deal Brexit is now 'very, very likely'

11 December 2020, 11:50 | Updated: 11 December 2020, 13:20

By Megan White

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it is "very, very likely" that the UK will fail to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union and leave the bloc on World Trade Organisation terms.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned on Thursday that the UK and European Union remain apart on "fundamental issues" in post-Brexit trade deal negotiations ahead of Sunday's deadline for a decision on the future of the talks.

She said gaps remained on fishing rights and the level-playing field measures aimed at preventing the UK undercutting the EU on standards and state subsidies.

But Mr Johnson told reporters on a visit to Blyth in Northumberland: "We are always hopeful, and as you know the negotiations are continuing and we've got our teams still out there in Brussels.

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"And if there is a big offer, a big change in what they are saying then I must say that I've yet to see it.

"Unfortunately at the moment, as you know, there are two key things where we just can't seem to make progress and that's this kind of ratchet clause they've got in to keep the UK locked in to whatever they want to do in terms of legislation, which obviously doesn't work.

"And then there is the whole issue of fish where we've got to be able to take back control of our waters. So there is a way to go - we're hopeful that progress can be made.

"But I've got to tell that from where I stand now, here in Blyth, it is looking very, very likely that we will have to go for a solution that I think would be wonderful for the UK, and we'd be able to do exactly what we want from January 1 - it obviously would be different from what we'd set out to achieve but I have no doubt this country can get ready and, as I say, come out on World Trade terms."

Earlier on Friday, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told LBC that the Government is "90 per cent of the way" to securing a deal.

Speaking at a press conference at the end of a two-day European Council summit in Brussels, Mrs von der Leyen said: "I briefed the leaders on the negotiations with the United Kingdom: positions remain apart on fundamental issues.

"On the level-playing field, we have repeatedly made clear to our UK partners that the principle of fair competition is a pre-condition to privileged access to the EU market.

"It is the largest single market in the world and it is only fair that competitors to our own enterprises face the same conditions on our own market.

"But, this is not to say that we would require the UK to follow us every time we decide to raise our level of ambition, for example in the environmental field.

"They would remain free, sovereign if you wish, to decide what they want to do. We would simply adapt the conditions for access to our market according to the decision of the United Kingdom, and this would apply vice versa."

On fisheries, Mrs von der Leyen said the UK and EU have "not yet found the solutions to bridge our differences" and urged the Government to "understand the legitimate expectations of EU fishing fleets built on decades, and sometimes centuries, of access".

"On these and other points, our negotiators are working. We will decide on Sunday whether we have the conditions for an agreement or not."

And she added: "One way or the other, in less than three weeks it will be new beginnings for old friends."

On Thursday, the Prime Minister told reporters: "I've just updated Cabinet on where we've got to with our friends and partners in the EU and they agreed very strongly with me that the deal on the table is really not at the moment right for the UK.

"And I'll tell you why, there's a couple of things at least, the most important is really in just the last couple of weeks, they've brought back the idea of this equivalence between the UK and the EU which basically means that whatever new laws they brought in we would have to follow or else face punishment, sanctions, tariffs or whatever.

"And it was put to me that this was kind of a bit like twins and the UK is one twin the EU is another and if the EU decides to have a haircut then the UK is going to have a haircut or else face punishment."

He said that forcing the UK to keep up with EU regulations was "not the sensible way to proceed" and claimed it is unlike any other free trade deal.

"It's a way of keeping the UK kind of locked in the EU's orbit - in their regulatory orbit," he added.

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Thursday that an "Australian-style deal" ensured the country faces "very large barriers" to trading with the EU and warned Mr Johnson that "Australia's relationship with the EU is not one from a trade point of view that I think Britain would want, frankly."

Asked about Mr Turnbull's comments, Mr Dowden told LBC's Nick Ferrari: "I would much prefer that we had a free trade relationship with the European Union, like that Canada has with the European Union, but that can't be achieved at any price and there are two areas of significant difference between us.

"It is worth saying by the way, the Cabinet was briefed on this yesterday and we discussed it extensively, we are 90 per cent of the way there, but the remaining areas are quite tricky.

"Firstly there's no country in the world that doesn't retain control of its sovereign waters, its fishing rights, so we need to see some movement on that.

"And secondly, there's no other free trade deal in the world, whether that's a deal the EU have done with Japan or with Canada, which says that if the EU chooses to change its regulations, the other country, in this case the United Kingdom, would have to follow suit or face the consequences.

"The fear that we have is that will keep Britain in the sphere of influence in the European Union, and mean that we haven't genuinely left, so that's why the Prime Minister is remaining firm on those points and has the full backing of the Cabinet in doing so."