Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday it was now time to prepare for a no-trade deal Brexit unless the European Union fundamentally changed course, bluntly telling Brussels that there was no point in talking any more.
A tumultuous “no deal” finale to the United Kingdom’s five-year Brexit crisis would sow chaos through the delicate supply chains that stretch across Britain, the EU and beyond – just as the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
At what was supposed to be the “Brexit summit” on Thursday, the EU delivered an ultimatum: it said it was concerned by a lack of progress and called on London to yield on key sticking points or see a rupture of ties with the bloc from Jan. 1.
“I have concluded that we should get ready for January 1 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s based on simple principles of global free trade,” Johnson said.
“With high hearts and with complete confidence, we will prepare to embrace the alternative and we will prosper mightily as an independent free trading nation, controlling and setting our own laws,” he added.
EU heads of government, concluding a summit in Brussels on Friday, rushed to say that they wanted a trade deal and that talks would continue, though not at any price.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s most powerful leader, said it would be best to get a deal and that compromises on both sides would be needed. French President Emmanuel Macron said Britain needed a Brexit deal more than the 27-nation EU.
Johnson’s spokesman said talks were now over and there was no point in the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier coming to London next week barring a change in approach.
“The trade talks are over: the EU have effectively ended them by saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position,” Johnson’s spokesman said.
The pound oscillated to Brexit news, dropping a cent against the U.S. dollar on Johnson’s remarks but then rising before falling again on his spokesman’s comments.
After demanding that London make further concessions for a deal, EU diplomats and officials cast Johnson’s move as little more than rhetoric, portraying it as a frantic bid to secure concessions before a last-minute deal was done.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he thought Johnson had signalled that London was ready to compromise.
While U.S. investment banks agree that a deal is the most likely ultimate outcome, the consensus was wrong on the 2016 Brexit referendum: when Britons voted by 52-48% to leave, markets tumbled and European leaders were shocked.
Asked if he was walking away from talks, Johnson said: “If there’s a fundamental change of approach, of course we are always willing to listen, but it didn’t seem particularly encouraging from the summit in Brussels.
“Unless there is a fundamental change of approach, we’re going to go for the Australia solution. And we should do it with great confidence,” he said.
A so-called “Australia deal” means that the United Kingdom would trade on World Trade Organization terms: as a country without an EU trade agreement, like Australia, tariffs would be imposed under WTO rules, likely causing significant price rises.