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Boris Johnson wants UK to prepare for 'the Australia option', ex-Aussie PM says 'careful what you wish for'

Malcolm Turnbull said that Australia faces “very large barriers” to trading with the EU.

Johnson at the Sydney Opera House in 2017.
Johnson at the Sydney Opera House in 2017.
Image: PA Images

BORIS JOHNSON HAS been told to “be careful what you wish for” as he was given a stark warning of the torments of trading with the EU on so-called Australian terms by the nation’s previous prime minister.

Malcolm Turnbull said that Australia faces “very large barriers” to trading with the bloc and that ending the Brexit transition period on similar terms will be “pretty disappointing”.

Turnbull’s warning yesterday came after the Johnson said there is a “strong possibility” that the UK will fail to broker a trade deal with Brussels.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said told EU leaders this morning that there were now “low expectations” a post-Brexit trade deal could be struck. 

An EU official said leaders heard that the “probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal” at a brief discussion of Brexit at a marathon Brussels summit, as time ticks down to a Sunday deadline to make a call on prolonging talks or giving up  

On the potential for no deal, Johnson used his euphemism of exiting with an “Australian relationship”, with the nation not having a free trade deal with the EU and instead trading on terms set by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Turnbull, who was the Liberal Party prime minister until 2018, told BBC Question Time: “It’ll be pretty disappointing, I think you’ll find out.

We obviously are dealing with WTO terms. And there are really some very large barriers to Australian trade with Europe which we’re seeking to address as we negotiate a free trade agreement with Europe.

“But Australians would not regard our trade relationship with Europe as being a satisfactory one.

“There are very big barriers to Australian exports of agricultural products in particular, there’s a lot of friction in the system in terms of services, there’s a lot to aim for.

“So, you know, be careful what you wish for. Australia’s relationship with the EU is not one from a trade point of view that I think Britain would want, frankly,” the former Rhodes Scholar added.

Earlier, Johnson had told his Cabinet to “get on and make those preparations” for a departure without a trade deal, though he said negotiators would “go the extra mile” to get a treaty in time for the end of the transition period on 31 December.

“I do think we need to be very, very clear, there is now a strong possibility – a strong possibility – that we will have a solution that is much more like an Australian relationship with the EU than a Canadian relationship with the EU,” he said in an interview.

Johnson insists that the UK can “prosper mightily” under a no-deal but the Office for Budget Responsibility financial watchdog has suggested that a no-deal outcome could wipe 2% off gross domestic product – a measure of the size of the economy – in 2021.

Experts have indicated that could be around £45 billion.

WTO rules will mean UK firms will face tariffs on many goods traded with the EU and the addition of some quota restrictions and customs checks.

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Australia trades 11% of its goods with the bloc. That figure stands at more than 50% for the UK.

While it does not have a comprehensive free trade agreement with Brussels, Australia does have a series of mini agreements on trade and other areas including the peaceful use of nuclear energy and scientific co-operation.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2020

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