‘Be careful what you wish for,’ warns last Australian PM as Boris Johnson touts no-deal Brexit

‘It’ll be pretty disappointing, I think you’ll find out,’ Malcolm Turnbull warns

‘Be careful what you wish for,’ warns last Australian PM over Brexit no-deal

Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK can “prosper mightily” if it crashes out of the EU without a trade deal – or as, he puts it, “on Australian terms” – has prompted a warning from Australia’s previous prime minister to “be careful what you wish for”.

Having emerged from a make-or-break dinner in Brussels without any concessions from European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen, Mr Johnson said on Thursday that it was “vital that everyone now gets ready for that Australian option”.

And as the British Retail Consortium warned failure to reach a trade deal would mean the instant imposition of tariffs on food and drink costing supermarkets and consumers £3.1bn every year, the prime minister insisted the terms of an “Australia”-style trade relationship – those set by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – were “very good” and would create “all sorts of amazing opportunities”.

But Malcolm Turnbull, who began Australia’s ongoing trade negotiations with the EU just before his premiership ended in 2018, said his country’s current relationship was not one the UK should seek to emulate.

“It’ll be pretty disappointing, I think you’ll find out,” the former Liberal Party politician said on the BBC’s Question Time

“We have obviously a deal with the EU on WTO terms, and there are really some very large barriers to Australian trade with Europe, which we’re seeking to address as we negotiate a free trade agreement with Europe.

"But Australians would not regard our trade relationship with Europe as being a satisfactory one.

“It’s our third-biggest trading partner collectively, because it’s such a big economy, but there are very big barriers to Australian exports of agricultural products in particular. There’s a lot of friction in the system in terms of services.”

“So be careful what you wish for,” he added. “Australia’s relationship with the EU is not one, from a trade point, that Britain would want, frankly.”

But, with an acting deadline of Sunday to bridge the perennial gaps of fishing rights and rules ensuring a “level playing field” within the EU’s single market, Mr Johnson said his Cabinet “agreed very strongly with me that the deal on the table is really not, at the moment, right for the UK”.

The prime minister lamented that under the deal on offer, which he said would leave the UK open to “punishments, sanctions, tariffs, or whatever” if its standards fell below the bloc’s, would leave the UK effectively “kind of locked in the EU’s regulatory orbit”.

While, as the prime minister pointed out, the EU is seeking to hold the UK to more stringent rules than other nations with which it has a free trade deal, such as Canada, many member states believe that as a potentially more significant trading partner, the UK poses a greater threat of distorting the balance of the single market, and thus requires tighter controls.

But the prime minister faces significant pressure from his party not to accept a deal which would undermine the UK’s newfound sovereignty.

Challenged on the prime minister’s “very pessimistic” comments earlier, justice minister Robert Buckland told the Question Time audience that Mr Johnson was merely “being very firm and direct on what we can’t accept”.

Despite the distance remaining, the prime minister said he had told his negotiators to “go the extra mile”, adding: “I will go to Brussels, I will go to Paris, I will go to Berlin or wherever to try to get this home and get a deal.

“But there’s always the possibility, the prospect of coming out on Australian terms, which I believe are very good terms and we can prosper mightily in that future, which is just around the corner, and there are all sorts of amazing opportunities for this country.

“And so what I told the Cabinet this evening is to get on and make those preparations. We’re not stopping negotiating, the talks will continue, but looking at where we are, I do think it’s vital that everybody now gets ready for that Australian option.”

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