Brexit: Boris Johnson signals no deal increasingly likely and hits out at EU for refusing to compromise

Gloomy No 10 says agreement ‘will not be easy to achieve’ and that it is ‘very difficult to make progress’ – with time fast running out

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 01 September 2020 14:33
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

Boris Johnson has admitted the UK is currently heading for a no-deal Brexit, with an agreement now “very difficult” as the two sides dig in and refuse to compromise.

In a new gloomy summary of the state of the talks, No 10 described a deal as only “still possible” – with a strong attack on the EU’s failure to give ground.

“An agreement is still possible and this is still our goal, but it is clear it will not be easy to achieve,” the prime minister’s spokesperson said.

He confirmed Brussels was refusing to discuss British proposals on future fishing quotas until it had received a state aid plan – something London has so far refused to set out.

The stance made it “very difficult to make progress”, with just weeks to find a solution to avoid a crash-out Brexit on 1 January and massive disruption, he warned.

Although government sources are playing down the idea of the UK walking away without a breakthrough, they agree a deal must be struck by the European Council summit in mid-October.

David Frost, Britain’s chief negotiator, and Michel Barnier, his EU counterpart, were holding informal talks in London on Tuesday, but with little apparent hope of reviving the negotiations.

Brussels has also ruled out detailed talks on fish without UK concessions on quota sharing, to enable EU boats to continue to catch in British waters.

The Downing Street spokesperson pointed to the EU’s insistence on “continuity in state aid” as the key stumbling block – but said the UK’s proposals would only be published “in due course”.

“The EU continues to insist that we must agree on difficult areas in the negotiations, such as state aid, before any work can be done in any other areas,” the spokesperson said.

With just weeks to the council summit, he admitted: “Time is short for both sides.”

He played down a dramatic intervention by the prime minister, saying: “The negotiations are being conducted by David Frost and Michel Barnier.”

And, asked if there was any possibility of an extension to the transition period – to avoid the damage of a no deal – he replied: “No.”

Ed Davey, the new Liberal Democrat leader, accused the prime minister of continuing his “posturing on Brexit”.

“It wasn’t long ago that Boris Johnson asserted that he wanted a Brexit deal by the end of July. Now even he must realise the pig’s breakfast he has made of these talks,” Sir Ed said.

Paul Blomfield, shadow Brexit minister, said: “The prime minister promised an ‘oven-ready’ deal that protects workers’ rights, the environment and provide barrier-free, tariff-free trade.

“It’s his duty to deliver on his promise, and not let down the British people yet again with incompetence and bluster. Businesses, jobs and livelihoods are on the line.”

Nicola Sturgeon also took aim at Brexit, as she announced legislation setting out the timings and terms for a second independence referendum with her Programme for Government.

The first minister described the situation as “an act of self-sabotage which we do not understand”.

And Naomi Smith, of the Best for Britain group, said Mr Johnson was paying the price for the “artificial 31 December deadline imposed by Britain”.

“We have the opportunity to strike the historic, comprehensive trade deal promised to voters in the Conservative 2019 manifesto, that would set the scene for a future in which Britain and the EU work as allies, not competitors, and yet the signals from our own side are deeply disturbing,” she said.

Many on both sides of the Channel hold increasingly pessimistic views that the talks will end in failure, with attitudes hardening.

“Negotiations are not advancing due to the intransigent and frankly unrealistic attitude of the UK,” Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said on Monday.

“On Brexit, we always showed unity and proved wrong those who saw signs of an overall implosion of Europe. It is in staying united that we can stick to our line on an overall agreement.”

The comment reflected a belief that Mr Johnson will still blink, to avoid piling even worse border, trading and security chaos on top of the economic crisis triggered by Covid.

That could include clashes between EU fishermen and the royal navy, with patrols already being stepped up.

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