No-deal Brexit threat ramped up as No 10 says Boris Johnson will prioritise a clean break from EU

France warns the EU will not be ‘blackmailed’ by prime minister’s self-imposed deadline for talks

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 24 February 2020 13:07 GMT
Andrew Opie from British Retail Consortium warns of price hikes and food shortages from Johnson Brexit deal

Downing Street has ramped up expectations of a no-deal Brexit by saying that Boris Johnson will prioritise a clean break from EU regulations and courts over smooth trade in upcoming talks with Brussels.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said there was “absolutely” no question of the prime minister extending talks on the future relationship with the EU beyond 31 December – after which the UK will crash out on World Trade Organisation terms if no deal has been agreed, with the potential for massive disruption to trade and travel.

The comments – which represent a significant hardening in Downing Street’s position – came as France accused the UK of using the self-imposed deadline as a way of “blackmailing” the EU into accepting a bad Brexit deal.

The PM’s spokesperson denied the blackmail allegation and said that there would be no extension to negotiations once the 11-month transition period agreed by Mr Johnson comes to an end.

“The UK’s primary objective in negotiations is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021,” he said.

Asked later whether this meant that avoiding alignment with Brussels regulations and preventing any role for the European Court of Justice in ruling on future trade disputes were greater priorities than ensuring smooth trade after the end of this year, a senior No 10 source said: “Yes.”

The source added: “Our overriding objective in the negotiations is by 1 January to have taken back control and we won’t agree to anything that doesn’t deliver that. Which means no rule-taking from the EU and no role for the European Court of Justice.

“Our red line is we have to have taken back full control by 1 January.”

The PM’s spokesperson appeared to confirm that the new trade arrangements coming into force in 2021 will involve some sort of controls or checks on goods travelling from the British mainland to Northern Ireland, as a result of Mr Johnson’s acceptance of a customs border in the Irish Sea in a protocol of the UK’s withdrawal agreement.

The spokesperson said that the new system would “ensure unfettered market access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain”.

But asked repeatedly whether the same unfettered access would be available for goods travelling in the other direction, he would say only that the PM was clear that “beyond the limited changes introduced by the protocol” there would be no changes to GB-Northern Ireland trade.

“We have not asked any ports to prepare for new checks or controls between GB and Northern Ireland,” said the spokesperson.

Brussels insists on checks on goods travelling from the mainland because of the possibility that they will enter the EU market by crossing the Irish border.

Amelie de Montchalin insists French firms will not pay the price for a quick trade deal (PA) (Brian Lawless/PA)

UK ministers are to meet for the so-called XS (exit strategy) committee in Downing Street on Tuesday to agree the UK’s detailed mandate for talks on the future relationship with the EU, ahead of its publication on Thursday.

Meanwhile, ministers from the 27 remaining European Union members will meet in Brussels on Tuesday to agree their own mandate. Finalising the process on both sides will clear the way for talks to begin in earnest next month.

In a sign that the EU is prepared to take a tough line, French Europe minister Amelie de Montchalin insisted that her country’s farmers, fishermen and businesses would not pay the price for a trade deal to be in place by the end of the year.

She told TV station France 2: “In this negotiation it must be understood by British businesses that we do not want a bad agreement – almost certainly, that we will sign up to no blackmail.”

Refusing to allow the UK to dictate the timetable, Ms De Montchalin said: “It is not because that Boris Johnson wants a deal at all costs for 31 December that we will sign, under pressure, a bad deal.”

In a further indication that access to UK fishing grounds will be one of the main flashpoints in the talks, the French minister said: “The fishermen have the right to be protected, they know very well that if we sign a bad deal they will lose enormously.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in