U.K. leadership on Friday said there was “no point” in continuing trade negotiations with the European Union as Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the country should prepare for a no-deal break from the bloc.
“Unless there’s a fundamental change of approach, we’re going to go to the Australia solution, and we should do it with great confidence,” Johnson said, referring to trading on World Trade Organization terms, or without a formal trade deal.
Johnson’s comments came after negotiators failed to reach a deal before his self-imposed October 15 deadline.
Johnson said that the EU had “abandoned the idea of a free trade deal” by not meeting the U.K.’s demand for a free trade agreement similar to that of Canada and the bloc. However, the EU has said such a deal would not work in light of the U.K.’s proximity to the bloc and the size of its economy: while trade between the EU and Canada totals 55 billion euros ($65 billion) a year, trade between the U.K. and the bloc totals 500 billion euros.
“The trade talks are over,” Johnson’s spokesman James Slack said. “The EU have effectively ended them yesterday,” he said, referring to the EU’s claim that the U.K. would have to significantly change its position if it wanted a deal.
Meanwhile, EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the bloc wanted to continue negotiations.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that EU negotiator Michel Barnier would go to London next week “to intensify these negotiations,” and that the bloc wanted a deal, though “not at any price.”
British negotiator David Frost and Barnier have agreed to speak early next week, though Slack said Barnier should only head to London if he is prepared to “discuss all the issues on the basis of legal texts in an accelerated way without the U.K. being required to make all of the moves.”
The U.K and the EU have struggled to see eye-to-eye on issues such as fisheries, competition rules, and governance, though Barnier said Thursday that he was hopeful a compromise could be found in the coming weeks.
“We are available, we shall remain available until the last possible day,” Barnier said at a press conference. “We want to give these negotiations every chance of being successful.”
While the bloc worries the U.K. will receive an unfair advantage by cutting food, workplace and environmental standards and sending state money to businesses once it no longer has to abide by the EU’s rules, Britain has accused the bloc of unfairly subjecting it to demands that have not been imposed on other countries it has free trade deals with.
“They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries, in a way that is obviously unacceptable to an independent country,” Johnson said.
Though Britain officially left the EU on January 31, it is still a part of its economic structures until December 31. In order to have a deal ratified by that point, an agreement should be reached by early next month.