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Boris Johnson warns no deal is 'very very likely' while Coveney says agreement is still possible

Boris Johnson said he was “hopeful” that progress could be made before Sunday.

Image: Photojoiner

Updated Dec 11th 2020, 7:40 PM

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has warned it is “very, very likely” that the UK will fail to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.

Johnson said he was “hopeful” that progress could be made in talks but stressed that the two sides remained stuck on fisheries and ‘level-playing field’ rules.

His comments came after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the negotiating teams’ positions remained apart on “fundamental issues”.

The two leaders have agreed to make a decision on the future of the negotiations by the end of the weekend.

Despite statements from both sides that no trade deal is more likely than a deal, it’s understood that if the UK gives ground on the level-playing field, and the EU gives ground on fisheries, that a deal could be done. 

It’s also expected that if one side moves first to compromise, the other side will do the same.

Coveney’s comments

While in Berlin to meet with his German counterpart Heiko Maas, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told a press conference “it is possible to get a deal”.

He added that could be achieved in a way that protected the EU’s interests in preserving the integrity of the Single Market while respecting Britain’s insistence on being an independent and sovereign country outside the bloc.

“Both can be achieved, we need to find a way of designing a middle ground that can achieve both.”

We are designing a new but hopefully positive relationship with an independent and sovereign Britain.

Simon Coveney said nobody was questioning British sovereignty or control; he said there had been a lot of “frustration” during negotiating efforts.

“What I would say to politicians, we need to try and dial down the language in terms of the division and differences of views and focus on the detail.

“The idea that the UK and EU cannot put a good, constructive, positive partnership in place in the context of that new relationship.

I think that would be an enormous lost opportunity and both sides will be weaker as a result, and that is why we think the next few days are so important in finding common ground, as opposed to stubbornly focusing on differences, some of which is based on perception and some on legal text and detail.

Boris Johnson on fisheries

Speaking to reporters on a visit to Blyth in Northumberland, Johnson said today: “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.

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.

“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.”

Earlier, von der Leyen said the UK would be free to decide whether to follow suit each time the EU changes its regulations – though if it refused the bloc would adapt the conditions for access to its markets.

It’s worth noting that around 97% of the deal has been agreed, and drafted into legal text.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said in previous weeks that “a landing strip” was in view for where negotiations could come to an agreement. Though the sides seem far apart now, that suggests that a deal is still possible if the political decision is taken to do one.

On level-playing field and fisheries

The level-playing field measures aimed at preventing the UK undercutting the EU on standards and state subsidies have proved a major stumbling block in the talks since they started in March.

On fisheries, the Commission president said the UK and EU have “not yet found the solutions to bridge our differences” and urged the British Government to “understand the legitimate expectations of EU fishing fleets built on decades, and sometimes centuries, of access”.

“On these and other points, our negotiators are working. We will decide on Sunday whether we have the conditions for an agreement or not.”

She added: “One way or the other, in less than three weeks it will be new beginnings for old friends.”

French president Emmanuel Macron meanwhile insisted he was not demanding to “have my cake and eat it” in response to a question on the EU’s proposals that the bloc’s fishermen would be able to continue to access UK waters for a year in a no-deal.

Chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost are continuing talks in Brussels after Johnson and von der Leyen agreed at a dinner on Wednesday to resume negotiations ahead of a decision on the future of talks this weekend.

Downing Street declined to deny reports that Johnson had requested calls with the leaders of France and Germany but was rejected, after he said he would be willing to return to Brussels – or head to Paris or Berlin – to get a deal over the line.

The Prime Minister also said yesterday that the Cabinet should “get on and make those preparations” for a departure on terms like Australia’s, which does not have a trade deal with Europe, unlike Canada.

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But Malcolm Turnbull, who was Australia’s prime minister until 2018, told Johnson publicly that he should be “careful what you wish for” as Australia’s relationship with the EU is “not one from a trade point of view that I think Britain would want, frankly”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden defended the British Government’s description of a no-deal exit as trading on Australian-style terms, insisting ministers were not “taking people for a ride”.

The price of a no-deal

The British Retail Consortium has warned that supermarkets and their shoppers would be hit with a £3.1 billion annual “tariff bombshell” without a deal, with 85% of foods imported from the EU expected to face tariffs exceeding 5%.

The pound continued to fall as traders’ fears of a no-deal Brexit intensified.

Against the dollar it hit a three-week low of 1.323 today, down 0.5%. Against the euro it fell to an 11-week low at 1.091, down 0.4%.

Ayush Ansal, chief investment officer at the hedge fund Crimson Black Capital, said: “With a no-deal departure from the EU now arguably odds-on, the UK is heading for the worst possible outcome at the worst possible time.”

He added: “Some market watchers are even suggesting the pound could fall to parity with the dollar in the event of no-deal, which would be a symbolic coup de grace for sterling.”

With reporting from the Press Association

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