Boris Johnson has warned the UK to prepare for a no-deal scenario in post-Brexit trade talks.
The Prime Minister said that the European Union had “abandoned the idea of free Brexit trade deal”, accusing them of “refusing to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months”.
He stressed that, unless there is a “fundamental change in approach” from the EU, then the UK will go for the “Australia solution” – Downing Street language for no-deal.
Mr Johnson had threatened to walk away from the talks this week if no breakthrough had been made but EU leaders called for them to continue. On Friday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that a deal was “close” with only two issues, fishing and the level playing field, left to thrash out.
In a statement on Friday, Mr Johnson said: “From the outset we were totally clear that we wanted nothing more complicated than a Canada-style relationship based on friendship and free trade.
“To judge by the latest EU summit in Brussels, that won’t work for our EU partners. They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries in a way that is completely unacceptable to an independent country.
“And since we have only 10 weeks until the end of the transition period on January 1, I have to make judgment about the likely outcome and get us ready.
“And given that they have refused to negotiate seriously for much of the last few months and given that this summit appears explicitly to rule out a Canada-style deal, I’ve 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.”
The Prime Minister said UK businesses, hauliers and travellers should now prepare for what amounts to a no-deal outcome in the talks.
On the prospects of an “Australia deal”, he said: “We can do it because we always knew there would be change on January 1, whatever type of relationship we had, and so now is the time for our businesses, our hauliers, for travellers to get ready…
“And so with high hearts and complete confidence, we will prepare to embrace the alternative and we will prosper mightily as an independent free trading nation, controlling our own borders, our fisheries and setting our own laws. And in the meantime, the Government will of course be focused on tackling Covid and building back better so that 2021 is a year of recovery and renewal.”
Questioned on whether he was walking away from the talks, Mr Johnson said he would be willing to listen to advances from Brussels.
He said: “As far as I can see, they have abandoned the idea of a free trade deal – there doesn’t seem to be any progress coming from Brussels.
“So what we are saying to them is, ‘Come here, come to us if there is some fundamental change of approach’. Otherwise we are more than happy to talk about the practicalities that I described – social security issues, road haulage and so on.
“But unless there is a fundamental change in approach, we are going to go for the Australia solution. And we should do it with great confidence – as I said, high hearts and confidence because we can do it.”
After the anouncement, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “The EU continues to work for a deal, but not at any price. As planned, our negotiation team will go to London next week to intensify these negotiations.”
Brexiteer Tory MP Peter Bone tweeted: “Well done Boris!! Standing up to the EU and putting the UK first.”
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said: “A Canada-style deal was always impossible given the withdrawal agreement. Boris now reaching the right solution.”
Leave.EU campaign tweeted: “Boris stares down Brussels, accusing them of “abandoning the idea of a free trade deal” and tells the country to prepare for no deal unless the EU fundamentally changes course. A strong intervention and absolutely the right approach. Let’s get on with it!”
But Tory MP Simon Hoare said: “Given the FACT that world economies are being hit by Covid should we leave the EU without a Deal? I think not. Our businesses (both sides of the Channel) need all help they can get. I agree with @BorisJohnson when he said leaving with no deal would be a failure of statecraft.”
SNP’s Pete Wishart said: “Here we go. Their coveted no deal now almost a certainty. This cabal of anti European obsessive disaster-ists will now take their union over the cliff edge.”
Former Labour MP Mike Gapes wrote: “Kamikaze ‘F**k Business’ Johnson going for No Deal crash out of EU. It is all about the blame game now.”
Labour’s Karl Turner added: “Pop it in the popty ping, oven ready NO DEAL.”
Labour’s Neil Coyle added: “Tories claimed they’d “got Brexit done” with their “oven-ready” deal. Plain and simple lies. They’ve damaged our country and our reputation deeply.”
Earlier, Mr Raab said that despite the EU Council’s conclusions, there was some more “emollient flexible language” coming out of certain quarters in Brussels.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “There is a deal to be done but there needs to be flexibility on both sides, energy and goodwill and political will on both sides.”
He added: “I’m surprised and disappointed by, frankly, the lack of flexibility and will that at least seems to have come out of the European Council. But let’s see what the Prime Minister will say later. We’ll look at this very carefully and he will set out some further detail later today.”
When it was suggested that it did not sound like the UK was walking away, Mr Raab replied: “We will look at this very carefully but we have always said there is a deal to be done.
“We’ve worked very hard, pragmatically, flexibly. Lord Frost our chief negotiator has done an exceptional job. The issues are very narrow now in terms of there is only really two issues at stake. So a deal should be able to be done. But it must require good will on both sides.”
He also told Sky News: “Having said that, we are close. There is only two issues fisheries and the so called level playing field. With goodwill on both sides we can get there.”
UK chief negotiator Lord Frost said the UK was “disappointed” by the outcome of the EU summit.