Leaving EU without a deal would be good outcome for UK, says PM
By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent
Leaving the European Union without a trade deal would still be a “good outcome” for the UK, the Prime Minister has said.
Boris Johnson, in comments due to be made on Monday, will tell Brussels that if no agreement can be reached by the October European Council, then both sides should be prepared to “accept that and move on”.
It comes as the Financial Times reported that the UK Government is planning new legislation this week that would override key parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, which sealed Britain’s exit from the EU, a move that could risk collapsing the trade negotiations.
The development and Mr Johnson’s pronouncement on a no-deal Brexit are the latest in a series of statements from senior UK Government figures outlining a hardening stance towards the bloc.
The UK’s negotiator Lord (David) Frost and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab both used interviews at the weekend to vow not to back down on the remaining sticking points.
Mr Raab told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that the negotiations had been “boiled down to two outstanding bones of contention” – control of UK fishing waters and the level of taxpayer support the Government will be able to provide businesses – and argued neither “principle” could not be “haggled away”.
Lord Frost is due to hold another round of key negotiations in London with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, this week, as they look to find a solution to the remaining issues in order to have a deal readied for when the transition period comes to an end on December 31.
But the Prime Minister will make clear on Monday that time is running out if the two sides are to ratify an agreement in time for 2021.
“We are now entering the final phase of our negotiations with the EU,” Mr Johnson is expected to say.
“The EU have been very clear about the timetable. I am too. There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on October 15 if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year.
“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.”
Mr Raab said on Sunday that he would prefer to leave with a deal and that there would be “damaging impacts” felt on both sides of the Channel if no deal was reached.
Mr Johnson, however, will argue that collapsing the trade talks next month would still represent “a good outcome for the UK” and that his administration was preparing for such an eventuality.
The Mail on Sunday (MoS) reported that Downing Street has created a transition hub, with handpicked officials across Government departments working to ensure the UK is ready to trade without a deal when the transition period ceases.
The Prime Minister is planning to say that no-deal means the country would have a “trading arrangement with the EU like Australia’s”, meaning it would fall back on trade protocols as set by the World Trade Organisation when doing business with its largest trading partner.
“I want to be absolutely clear that, as we have said right from the start, that would be a good outcome for the UK,” the Conservative Party leader will argue.
“As a Government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it.
“We will have full control over our laws, our rules, and our fishing waters.
“We will have the freedom to do trade deals with every country in the world. And we will prosper mightily as a result.
“We will of course always be ready to talk to our EU friends even in these circumstances.
“We will be ready to find sensible accommodations on practical issues such as flights, lorry transport, or scientific co-operation, if the EU wants to do that.
“Our door will never be closed and we will trade as friends and partners – but without a free trade agreement.”
But Mr Johnson, in an apparent bid to focus minds as another set of talks gets under way on Tuesday, will say that there is “still an agreement to be had”, one that is based on deals Brussels has previously struck with “Canada and so many others”.
According to Downing Street, the Prime Minister will add: “Even at this late stage, if the EU are ready to rethink their current positions and agree this I will be delighted.
“But we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get it.”
The briefed words from the Prime Minister arrived as the FT reported that sections of the Internal Market Bill, due to be published this Wednesday, are expected to “eliminate” the legal force of the Withdrawal Agreement in areas including state aid and Northern Ireland customs.
As part of the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, the region is expected to continue to follow some EU rules after Brexit to ensure there is no hard border, a resolution some Brexiteers took umbrage with.
The UK Government spokeswoman said it was working to “protect Northern Ireland’s place in our United Kingdom”.
She said: “We are working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol through the Joint Committee and will continue to approach these discussions in good faith.
“As a responsible government, we are considering fall back options in the event this is not achieved to ensure the communities of Northern Ireland are protected.”
Labour shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh said: “Just 10 months after signing a treaty promising to implement the Northern Ireland protocol, Boris Johnson’s Government is already threatening to renege on the UK’s legal obligations.
“This would be an act of immense bad faith: one that would be viewed dimly by future trading partners and allies around the world and make it more difficult for us to hold other governments to account.”