The UK has rebuffed Brussels’ offer of intensified trade talks next week, telling the European Union’s chief negotiator not to bother coming to London next week as there was “no basis for negotiations.”
Boris Johnson accused European leaders of having “abandoned the idea of a free trade deal” and told the country to “get ready” for a no-deal outcome in the negotiations after his October 15 deadline for reaching an agreement passed.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had responded to his media statement by vowing that the EU would carry on negotiating, suggesting talks next week in London would go ahead as planned.
But Lord Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, spoke with his counterpart Michel Barnier to tell him not to make the trip across the Channel next week.
The pair did pledge to speak “early next week” in an indication that hopes of talks continuing have not been entirely extinguished, despite Downing Street telling reporters the negotiations were now “over”.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “Lord Frost has spoken to Michel Barnier to update the EU on the Prime Minister’s statement.
“Lord Frost said that, as the PM had made clear, the European Council’s conclusions yesterday had left us without a basis to continue the trade talks without a fundamental change in the EU’s approach to these negotiations.
“There was accordingly no basis for negotiations in London as of Monday.
“He and Michel Barnier agreed to talk again early next week.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, in a briefing on Friday, said there was “no point” in Mr Barnier travelling to London unless the 27 member states were willing to alter their position or wanted to discuss sector by sector arrangements to prepare for no deal.
“The trade talks are over. The EU have effectively ended them by saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position,” the spokesman said.
Mr Johnson said earlier that with just 10 weeks until the end of the transition period on January 1, that he has "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.
Speaking to broadcasters, the prime minister 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 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."
Mr Johnson last month proposed that both sides should walk away from the talks and prepare for a no-deal outcome if there was no agreement by the European Council meeting on October 15.
But, in a text adopted by the summit of EU leaders on the day of the deadline, they “invited” Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier to continue his discussions while urging the UK to “make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible”.
The UK Brexit sherpa Lord Frost branded the response “unusual” in a statement released later.
He tweeted: “Disappointed by the European Council conclusions on UK/EU negotiations.
“(I’m) surprised the EU is no longer committed to working ‘intensively’ to reach a future partnership as agreed with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on October 3.
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“Also surprised by the suggestion that to get an agreement all future moves must come from the UK.
“It’s an unusual approach to conducting a negotiation.
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out UK reactions and approach tomorrow in the light of his statement of September 7.”
In his call with Ms von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel, Mr Johnson expressed “disappointment” that the talks had not made more progress.
However, there is scepticism in Brussels that Downing Street would be prepared to pull the plug on the negotiations.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “Britain has already imposed so many deadlines that came and went.”
Meanwhile, Mr Michel told a press conference that Brussels would decide in the coming days, based on the UK’s next proposals, whether it should continue with trade talks.
“We are clear that we are determined to negotiate, we are determined to reach an agreement but we know there are some difficult topics,” he said.
“It is the case for fisheries, certainly, and also for level playing field and also governance.
“We are united and we will make an assessment in the next days, we will see if it is possible to complete a negotiation, what will be the country’s (the UK’s) proposal and based on that we will make an assessment.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said at the press conference his team were determined to reach a “fair deal”.
All sides have acknowledged that the question of future fishing rights once the current Brexit transition period ends at the end of the year remains among the most difficult issues to be resolved.
French president Emmanuel Macron, who is under pressure from fishermen in his country who fear losing access to British waters, indicated that he was prepared to take a hard line.
“Under any circumstance, our fishermen should not be sacrificed for Brexit,” he said.
“If these conditions are not met, it’s possible we won’t have a deal. If the right terms can’t be found at the end of these discussions, we’re ready for a no-deal for our future relations.”
Irish premier Micheal Martin also emphasised the importance of securing a satisfactory agreement on fishing if there was to be an overall trade deal.
Meanwhile, Mrs von der Leyen announced that she had to pull out of the summit to self-isolate after a member of her staff tested positive for coronavirus, even though the German politician tested negative.