UK ready to walk away without ‘fundamental change’ from EU

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UK ready to walk away without ‘fundamental change’ from EU

After nearly five decades of British integration with Europe, a “no deal” outcome will mean tariffs and potential chaos for companies trading across the Channel, especially for goods transportation

Britain said on Friday there was no point in holding any more Brexit talks without a dramatic softening of the EU’s position, bringing a potentially nasty divorce at the end of the year a step closer.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded after a European Union summit Thursday proposed a fresh round of talks next week in London, while demanding Britain give ground on key stumbling blocks.

“As far as we’re concerned the trade talks are over,” Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters.

“The EU have effectively ended them, and only if the EU fundamentally changes its position will it be worth talking.”

Johnson, accusing the 27-nation bloc of failing “to negotiate seriously” in recent months, said the summit outcome had ruled out a comprehensive, Canada-style free trade agreement between the EU and Britain.

“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.

“And so with high hearts and complete confidence we will prepare to embrace the alternative,” Johnson added.

He said Britain should “get ready” to operate on stripped-down World Trade Organization rules from January akin to Australia’s relationship with the EU, pointing to sector-by-sector arrangements in areas such as social security, aviation and nuclear cooperation.

“And we will prosper mightily as an independent free-trading nation, controlling our own borders, our fisheries, and setting our own laws.”

– More talks? –

The comments depressed the British pound on currency markets.

After nearly five decades of British integration with Europe, a “no deal” outcome will mean tariffs and potential chaos for companies trading across the Channel, especially for goods transportation.

It could also arrive in the middle of a winter surge of the coronavirus pandemic, which has already been worsening since last month across Britain and the rest of Europe.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said every hour spent preparing for a no deal Brexit was an hour lost to the fight against Covid-19.

“So I feel deeply depressed about the Brexit situation,” she said.

Johnson had set the EU summit as a deadline for a deal but he is under pressure after fresh warnings that British companies are far from ready for the consequences of a cliff-edge divorce, when a post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31.

The prime minister has repeatedly refused to extend the transition period, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged a change of mind.

“The last thing London needs is the chaos and uncertainty of a no-deal Brexit. With businesses already facing huge challenges due to coronavirus restrictions, now is the worst time to put more jobs and livelihoods at risk,” he said.

Britain wants to reassert sovereignty over its waters and refuse EU legal oversight over any deal, insisting it wants an overarching trade deal of the kind the EU adopted with Canada in 2017.

Brussels in turn stresses that Britain’s economy is far more integrated with the EU’s than Canada’s, and that its single market must be protected from backsliding on regulation or state aid in Britain.

At their Brussels summit, EU leaders demanded Britain compromise on fair trade rules to unblock the stalled post-Brexit talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday both sides should cede ground to break open the stalled talks. 

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier also proposed the meetings in London next week and the EU confirmed he had planned to head to the British capital to intensify negotiations from Monday.

However, UK negotiator David Frost spoke to Barnier to underline there was “no basis for negotiations in London as of Monday” in light of Johnson’s declaration, a spokesman at 10 Downing Street said.

Frost and Barnier “agreed to talk again early next week”, the spokesman said.

“We are ready to continue to talk, in good faith, to advance, but I will also be very clear: we will not sacrifice any position, any interest and we will not sacrifice our fishermen,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.

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