The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator has told his European counterpart not to come to London on Monday to resolve stalled talks, after the prime minister warned it was time to “get ready” to leave without a deal.
David Frost spoke to Michel Barnier after Boris Johnson claimed Brussels had “abandoned” the ambition of a free trade deal but insisted “we always knew there would be changes” next year once the Brexit transition period ends.
“There was accordingly no basis for negotiations in London as of Monday,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said.
However, they added that Lord Frost agreed to talk with Mr Barnier at some point early next week instead.
Speaking from Downing Street after an EU summit which both sides said was the deadline for hammering out a deal, Mr Johnson said it looked like the country was heading for what he called “the Australian solution”.
He suggested he is not completely walking away from negotiations, adding: “What we’re saying to them is come here, come to us, if there’s some fundamental change of approach.”
The UK left the EU on 31 January this year.
After that the country entered a transition period, following many of the same rules meaning there was no change to trade and tariffs or things like freedom of movement.
Negotiators have since been trying to hammer out a trade deal to come into force when that runs out at the end of December.
But Mr Johnson said in a dramatic intervention that “there doesn’t seem to be any progress coming from Brussels”.
He told businesses and hauliers to “get ready” for there to be no free trade deal.
Instead he said the UK’s relationship with the EU could be more like the one Brussels has with Australia, which will mean tariffs being introduced on goods between the UK and the 27 other EU countries.
Mr Johnson urged people to “embrace” the plan with “high hearts”, vowing the UK will “prosper mightily”.
His spokesman later said official talks were “over” and there was “no point” to discussions scheduled to take place next week actually going ahead.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission, said she would continue to work for a deal – “but not at any price”.
“As planned, our negotiation team will go to London next week to intensify these negotiations,” she added.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also echoed a similar sentiment, saying: “As far as the EU is concerned, and as far as I am concerned, we should continue to negotiate.”
And Charles Michel, head of the EU Council, said fisheries remains a “very important topic” in talks and insisted the UK should implement the divorce deal “in total”, after Mr Johnson threatened to override it.
At home, Nicola Sturgeon said she felt “deeply frustrated and depressed” by the prospect of a no-trade deal end to the transition while the UK is still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
And Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael tweeted: “To go from ‘oven-ready’ to ‘no-deal’ in less than nine months suggests utter incompetence from the PM and his government.”
The pound fell by a cent against the dollar immediately following the prime minister’s statement, but quickly recovered to trade at just under $1.29.
Analysis: EU won’t be encouraged or upset by PM’s intervention
By Adam Parsons, Europe correspondent
The EU won’t exactly see these comments as encouraging, but nor will they be especially upset.
Mr Johnson has left the way clear for talks to continue, inviting the EU to “come here, come to us”.
And by happy coincidence, Michel Barnier had already offered to continue negotiations in London next week.
As for the commitment to prepare for an Australian-style deal, by which he means just about no deal at all, EU sources have said to me that they think everyone should have been making those preparations anyway, just in case.
Does this turn up the heat? Maybe, although the pressure of the clock is doing that anyway.
The EU does think that slight progress has been made, but nobody is claiming that a deal is around the corner.
The economic damage of COVID-19 is a much bigger problem for many leaders.
Plenty of countries see a Brexit deal as a distraction at a time when they want to spend their time concentrating on how to respond to the resurgent pandemic.
And there is a school of thought among some in Brussels that a period of no-deal might be a good thing, in order to focus minds on a subsequent return to negotiations.
One diplomat said to me: “If we end up with no-deal, and massive queues of lorries on both sides of the Channel, then everyone might negotiate with a bit more purpose.”
The mantra here has been “we want a deal, but not at any cost”. There’s not much sign of anyone embracing a fundamental rethink at this point.
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