Boris Johnson says UK can ‘easily cope’ with no-deal Brexit as deal remains ‘touch and go’
British PM says UK will withhold the bulk of €43bn divorce bill if outcome is no-deal
The British prime minister, who was using the G7 summit in Biarritz in France to hold talks with European Council president Donald Tusk, said he believed the chances of a deal were “improving” following a round of diplomacy which has also seen meetings with Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
But he refused to repeat his previous assertion that the odds of a no-deal outcome were a million to one.
“It all depends on our EU friends and partners, I think in the last few days there has been a dawning realisation in Brussels and other European capitals what the shape of the problem is for the UK,” he told the BBC.
“I think it’s going to be touch and go but the important thing is to get ready to come out without a deal.”
Following a meeting between Mr Johnson and Mr Tusk on Sunday, a British official said Mr Johnson told Mr Tusk the UK would be leaving the EU on October 31st whatever the circumstances.
Mr Johnson told Mr Tusk that his preference remained to seek a deal with the EU, and repeated that he would still be willing to sit down and talk with the EU and member states, the official said.
“The PM repeated that we will be leaving the EU on the 31st of October whatever the circumstances; we must respect the referendum result,” the official said.
Downing Street said the prime minister had told the council president that “we will work in an energetic and determined way to get a better deal”.
The two will meet again at the UN General Assembly next month.
An EU official, who declined to be named, said the meeting had mainly restated known positions.
“We need input from their side . . . What we would ideally have been hoping for and looking for were new elements to unblock the situation,” said the EU official. “But, it was absolutely cordial all the time. It was not difficult.”
He added that it was reassuring that Mr Johnson had reiterated he wanted to reach a deal.
In a series of broadcast interviews Mr Johnson confirmed that he would withhold the bulk of the £39 billion (€43 billion) Brexit divorce bill if there is not a deal.
“I think what the entire European Union understands is that if we come out without a deal that the £39 billion is not pledged,” he told Sky.
If there was a no-deal Brexit, he said he would “guarantee” that people would still be able to get medicine, and “I think it’s highly unlikely that there will be food shortages of any kind”.
The UK “can easily cope with a no-deal scenario”, he claimed.
Mr Johnson went for a swim in the Atlantic before his meetings at the G7 and told ITV: “I swam round that rock this morning. From here you cannot tell there is a gigantic hole in that rock. There is a way through.
“My point to the EU is that there is a way through, but you can’t find the way through if you just sit on the beach.”
Before the summit, Mr Tusk urged Mr Johnson not to go down in history as “Mr No-Deal”.
The prime minister told Sky: “The people who are going to be responsible for no-deal are not in the UK, we don’t want no-deal.”
The prime minister’s comments came as he faced a backlash over reports he had sought legal advice from British attorney general Geoffrey Cox about temporarily shutting down parliament – known as prorogation – for five weeks from September 9th.
The Observer reported that the move would allow for a Queen’s Speech, starting a new parliamentary session, on October 14th.
Such a move would keep MPs away from the House of Commons until shortly before the European Council summit of EU leaders on October 17th, potentially preventing moves to block a no-deal Brexit.
A British government source added: “The claim that the government is considering proroguing parliament in September in order to stop MPs debating Brexit is entirely false.”
But Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “If Boris Johnson can find a kooky or irregular way to shut parliament out of the Brexit process, it will be an outrage.” –Reuters