Boris Johnson risks no-deal Brexit by refusing to extend trade talks

PUBLISHED: 10:40 09 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:40 09 January 2020

Prime minister Boris Johnson greets EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen ahead of a meeting in Downing Street. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire.

Prime minister Boris Johnson greets EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen ahead of a meeting in Downing Street. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire.

Boris Johnson has said he will not extend the Brexit transition period beyond the end of the year, despite warnings from Brussels it would be 'impossible' to get a trade deal by then.

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After his first meeting with new European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Downing Street, the prime minister said that he would stick to his 11-month deadline.

Following the discussions at Number 10, Downing Street described the talks as "positive", but Von der Leyen warned the timeline was "very, very tight" and it would be "impossible" to agree everything by December 31.

Von der Leyen said they would need to "prioritise" those areas where there were no international agreements to fall back on to avoid a damaging "hard Brexit".

A spokesman for Johnson said: "The PM reiterated that we wanted a broad free trade agreement covering goods and services, and co-operation in other areas.

"The PM was clear that the UK would not extend the implementation period beyond December 31 2020.

"He said the UK wanted a positive new UK and EU partnership, based on friendly co-operation, our shared history, interests and values."

Number 10 appeared willing to consider the prospect of sector-specific mini deals, with the prime minister's press secretary telling reporters: "We want to get on in terms of negotiating a deal so maybe the approach of 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed' which characterised previous negotiations, that's not an approach we are interested in taking."

Speaking at the London School of Economics, where she studied, Mrs von der Leyen said that would have "consequences" for the sort of agreement which could be reached.

While the EU was ready to sign up to an agreement based on "zero tariffs, zero quotas", there also had to be "zero dumping" of cheap exports on European markets.

"The European Union is ready to negotiate a truly ambitious and comprehensive new partnership with the United Kingdom. But the truth is that our partnership cannot and will not be the same as before," she said.

"With every decision comes a trade-off. Without the free movement of people, you cannot have the free movement of capital, goods and services.

"Without a level playing field on environment, labour, taxation and state aid, you cannot have the highest quality access to the world's largest single market."

Von der Leyen said that, throughout the negotiations, the EU would be committed to upholding the integrity of the single market and the customs union.

"There can be no compromise on this. But we are ready to design a new partnership with zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero dumping. A partnership that goes well beyond trade and is unprecedented in scope," she said.

After the Downing Street meeting, a European Commission spokesman said: "President von der Leyen stressed the fact that the EU fully respects the decision by the UK to leave the EU. This decision brings with it consequences, as no relationship can be as close as being a member of the EU."

Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael MP warned it could result in the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the hard deadline Boris Johnson has set for negotiating the future relationship between the EU and UK is unrealistic.

"Von der Leyen's comments highlight that the Tory government must be open to extending the transition period beyond the end of this year to ensure we do not leave with a half-baked deal or crash out without any deal at all.

"A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for our NHS, jobs and the environment. The government's own reports have detailed how devastating a no-deal scenario would be. It is unacceptable that the Tories have refused to take it off the table.

"Liberal Democrats will continue to fight to stop a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020. It is essential that the transition period can be extended to prevent this devastating prospect."

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