No-deal Brexit still ‘most likely’ despite decision to extend talks, Boris Johnson warns

Prime minister refuses to say if EU has given any ground – which he had demanded as necessary to keep talking

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 13 December 2020 13:37
No-deal Brexit still ‘most likely’ despite decision to extend talks, Boris Johnson warns

A no-deal Brexit is still the “most likely” outcome despite the decision to extend talks, a downbeat Boris Johnson has warned.

The prime minister refused to say if the EU had given any ground overnight – as he had demanded, ahead of the supposed deadline on whether to abandon the negotiations.

“Let’s get ready for the WTO [World Trade Organisation] option – that’s what I told the Cabinet,” Mr Johnson said.

The comments were notably more gloomy than those of Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, who had said: “We both think it is responsible to go the extra mile.”

Significantly, unlike last week – after the pair’s failed face-to-face talks in Brussels – no fresh deadline was set for progress being made.

However, there is no sign of a decisive breakthrough on the flashpoints of fair competition and fishing rights, leaving open the prospect of a no-deal outcome in just 18 days’ time.

Mr Johnson, speaking in Downing Street said, said: “As far as I can see, there are some serious and very, very difficult issues that currently separate the UK from the EU.

“The best thing to do now for everybody is to follow up all the work that has been done over the last four-and-a-half years, a colossal amount of preparation at our ports, everywhere across the UK, [to] get ready to trade on WTO terms.”

The prime minister – who claimed on Friday that a no-deal outcome would be “wonderful” – again talked up “a clarity and a simplicity in that approach that has its own advantages”.

“It is not where we wanted to get to, but if we have to end up with that solution, the UK is more than prepared.”

But he also hinted the talks would continue without a deadline, in the run-up to the 31 December crunch point of leaving the single market and customs union.

“The UK certainly won’t be walking away from the talks. I think people will expect us to go the extra mile,” he added.

Despite Mr Johnson’s optimism, official forecasts predict a no-deal will swipe £40bn from the UK economy next year, putting 300,000 people out of work, with warnings of border chaos and higher food prices.

The UK would have to decide whether to accept the ‘mini-deals’ proposed by Brussels – to keep planes in the air and lorries with food and medicines rolling – but at the price of the competition rules it is demanding.

There is also a growing risk of clashes in the Channel over fish, where the UK is bolstering its defences with four Royal Navy patrol ships as the EU seeks continued access to its fish-rich waters.

Earlier Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, attacked Brussels’ “outlandish” demands which “don't get more reasonable by repetition” – offering little hint of a meeting of minds.

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