UK ready to walk away without 'fundamental change' from EU

UK ready to walk away without 'fundamental change' from EU

Boris Johnson on Friday kept the door open to more Brexit talks but insisted Britain was ready to
Boris Johnson on Oct 16, 2020 kept the door open to more Brexit talks but insisted Britain was ready to slam it shut unless the EU offers "fundamental change". (Photo: AFP/JESSICA TAYLOR)

LONDON: Britain on Friday (Oct 16) said 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 on 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 in a broadcast interview.

"And so with high hearts and complete confidence we will prepare to embrace the alternative," Johnson said.

He said Britain should "get ready" to operate on stripped-down World Trade Organization (WTO) rules from January akin to Australia's relationship with the EU.

"And we can do it, because we always knew that there would be change on Jan 1 whatever type of relationship we had," he said, 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."

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The comments depressed the British pound on currency markets.

After 45 years of British integration with Europe, a "no deal" outcome will mean tariffs and potential chaos for companies trading across the Channel, especially for goods transport.

Johnson had set the EU summit as a deadline for a deal but 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 Dec 31.

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.

Chief negotiator Michel Barnier also proposed the meetings in London next week and the EU confirmed it would be in the British capital to intensify negotiations from Monday.

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

"We have asked Great Britain to continue to be willing to compromise towards an agreement. Of course, this also means that we have to make compromises," Merkel said after the EU summit.

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said EU leaders had given Barnier "the necessary flexibility to continue with the negotiations ... to ensure a comprehensive fair and free trade deal".

But Johnson's spokesman indicated there was "no point" in Barnier coming as things stand.

"It's over to the EU now," he said, demanding Barnier only visit if the EU is willing to negotiate "on the basis of legal texts in an accelerated way without the UK being required to make all the moves".

The insistence of France and other northern EU fishing nations on maintaining access to British waters has been one major hurdle in the talks so far.

"The problem that we have today is far from being only fishing, it is much more fundamental," French President Emmanuel Macron 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."

Source: AFP/dv

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