Downing Street says nothing new in EU’s reassurance on ‘ratchet clause’

Brexit talks to continue until Sunday but Johnson calls a no-deal outcome ‘very, very likely’

British prime minister Boris Johnson in  Northumberland on Friday. Asked during the visit about the Brexit negotiations  he said: ‘If there is a big offer, a big change in what they are saying, then I must say that I’ve yet to see it.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

British prime minister Boris Johnson in Northumberland on Friday. Asked during the visit about the Brexit negotiations he said: ‘If there is a big offer, a big change in what they are saying, then I must say that I’ve yet to see it.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

 

Downing Street has rejected as “nothing new” Ursula von der Leyen’s reassurance that a proposed “ratchet clause” to maintain equivalence in standards into the future would not impinge on Britain’s sovereignty.

The European Commission president said Britain would remain free to decide whether or not to follow EU standards but the EU would adjust access to its market accordingly, adding that the measure would apply “vice versa”.

“I would say there isn’t anything new here, because they still say they would adapt the conditions they place on us for access and our position on sovereignty remains unchanged,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

Talks between Britain and the EU about their future relationship remain deadlocked on fisheries, level playing field guarantees of fair competition and how to enforce any agreement. But the focus has narrowed in recent days on to the ratchet clause, which would allow the EU to impose tariffs on British goods if it raised its environmental, employment or consumer standards and Britain did not follow suit.

The negotiating teams will continue talking until Sunday but during a visit to the Northumberland town of Blyth on Friday, Boris Johnson said he thought no deal was “very, very likely” to be the outcome.

“Big offer’

“If there is a big offer, a big change in what they are saying, then I must say that I’ve yet to see it. Unfortunately at the moment, as you know, there are two key things where we just can’t seem to make progress and that’s this kind of ratchet clause they’ve got in to keep the UK locked in to whatever they want to do in terms of legislation, which obviously doesn’t work,” he said.

“And then there is the whole issue of fish where we’ve got to be able to take back control of our waters. So there is a way to go – we’re hopeful that progress can be made. But I’ve got to tell that from where I stand now, here in Blyth, it is looking very, very likely that we will have to go for a solution that I think would be wonderful for the UK, and we’d be able to do exactly what we want from January 1 – it obviously would be different from what we’d set out to achieve but I have no doubt this country can get ready and, as I say, come out on World Trade terms.”

Phone call

Downing Street did not deny a report from Brussels that Mr Johnson had requested that Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron join him and Ms Von der Leyen on a call last Monday but they refused. Imran Ahmad Khan, the Conservative MP for Wakefield, condemned Dr Merkel for her decision.

“I stand with millions of Britons that are deeply insulted at the shocking news that the German chancellor has refused the British prime minister’s request for a telephone call. This is an insult to every Briton, whether they support our PM or not. Have our EU ‘friends’ no regard or respect for the UK and our nations’ sacrifices that permit them to live in freedom and prosperity today, safely away from the shadow of totalitarianism? The EU’s contemptuous treatment of the UK makes it clear there cannot be a deal until it accepts the UK as a sovereign equal and awards us the respect and regard we merit,” he said.