Boris Talks Tough: Will Threaten WTO Exit Unless EU Agrees Deal by Autumn

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a press conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus pandemic with chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance in Downing Street after he had taken part in the government's COBRA meeting on March 16, …
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell the European Union that the UK will pull out of negotiations and prepare to deal with the bloc on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms unless Brussels backs a free trade agreement by the autumn.

Mr Johnson is set to hold high-level meetings with Brussels leaders on Monday — speaking with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Parliament President David Sassoli, and European Council President Charles Michel — to demand “renewed energy and commitment” in talks which have so far resulted in a deadlock.

British negotiators have said that while the coronavirus pandemic has complicated negotiations, it is their Brussels equivalents who are holding up progress on a deal, particularly over Britain’s red lines on regulatory alignment, fishing, and the Irish border. Meetings are expected to take place for five weeks between June 29th and July 27th.

Sources told The Telegraph on Sunday that the prime minister “will make it clear that the negotiation now needs to be swiftly concluded, with certainty provided to the public and businesses by the autumn at the latest”.

He will again call for a “high-quality Free Trade Agreement” that is “consistent with others the EU have agreed, as part of a balanced overall outcome”. He will say that “whatever happens”, the UK will leave the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market on December 31st, 2020.

A government source speaking separately to the Daily Mail said it was “now bang-the-table time”. He continued: “If there is not renewed energy and commitment to reach an agreement by the end of summer then we are heading for No Deal.”

The Continent is also gearing up for the possibility of a ‘No Deal’. France’s Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau told the Today programme on Monday: “We are ready either for an agreement or for a no-deal and we are getting prepared more actively to a no-deal considering the circumstances.”

The UK officially left the EU on January 31st, 2020, but remains in a transition period until the end of the year, still bound by EU regulations, during which time negotiators on both sides of the English Channel work on agreeing to a future trading partnership.

However, Britons have heard similar tough talk before, with the government saying in February that it would cease negotiations and prepare for a WTO exit if sufficient progress towards a deal were not made by the end of this month, June.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has also said recently that London and Brussels must agree on a deal by October for it to be ratified by the European Parliament.

The reports come after the government revealed on Friday that it would not be imposing full border customs checks on EU goods until July 2021, a move which Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage warned was “a very bad sign” and a signal of the “first betrayal” of Brexit.

Mr Farage told The Telegraph that he was keeping a “watching brief” of Brexit negotiations, adding that he feared last week’s announcement was “the first slip” towards a soft Brexit. If the UK remains closely aligned to the EU, it will hamper the UK’s abilities to sign international trade agreements and stop Brexit Britain from increasing its competitive edge over its neighbours.

The Brexit leader told the newspaper: “If they slip on Brexit then there will be a new insurgent political party in British politics.”

Reports from this weekend suggest Mr Farage could relaunch the Brexit Party as the Reform Party, following concerns over Boris Johnson’s leadership.

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