Boris Johnson has put a six-week deadline on negotiations towards a post-Brexit deal with the EU, threatening to walk away from the talks if there is no agreement before the next European Council on October 15th. Speaking ahead of the eighth round of talks between the two sides in London this week, the British prime minister will say that the negotiations are entering their final phase.
“There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on 15 October if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year. So there is no sense in thinking about timelines that go beyond that point. 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,” he will say.
“We will then have a trading arrangement with the EU like Australia’s. I want to be absolutely clear that, as we have said right from the start, that would be a good outcome for the UK. As a government we are preparing, at our borders and at our ports, to be ready for it.”
Australia has no free trade deal with the EU so the alternative to agreeing a free trade deal before the end of the post-Brexit transition period on December 31st is for Britain to trade with the European Union on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.
Mr Johnson suggests that even if talks on their future relationship collapse, Britain and the EU could agree a series of mini-deals, something the European side has ruled out.
“We will be ready to find sensible accommodations on practical issues such as flights, lorry transport, or scientific cooperation, 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,” he will say.
“There is still an agreement to be had. We will continue to work hard in September to achieve it. It is one based on our reasonable proposal for a standard free trade agreement like the one the EU has agreed with Canada and so many others. 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.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier used a speech in Dublin last week to warn that the post-Brexit transition period will end on December 31st unless Britain moves on key issues, notably on state aid for businesses. The EU is no longer asking that Britain should continue to follow EU rules on state aid and accepts that London should be able to design its own subsidy policy.
Britain has not yet revealed what its new subsidy rules will be or if they will be overseen by an independent regulator such as the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The EU wants to see the substance of the new rules, to know how domestic enforcement will work and to agree a robust dispute resolution mechanism with Britain.