LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that Britain should prepare for a no-deal break with the European Union unless there is a “fundamental” change of attitude from the bloc.
Johnson said the EU refused to give Britain a trade deal like the one it has with Canada, which Britain is seeking.
EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen refused to bow to British pressure, saying less than an hour after Johnson issued his ultimatum that the EU still wants a Brexit trade agreement “but not at any cost.”
The UK has threatened to walk away from the negotiations if an agreement is not hit by the EU summit, which ends later on Friday.
Johnson did not go that far, but said the EU seemed to have “abandoned”
Britain officially left the EU on 31 January, but will remain part of its economic structures until 31 December. Then it needs a new trade agreement or faces tariffs and other economic barriers against the EU – its largest trading partner.
However, a trade agreement remains elusive, and EU leaders said in a joint statement that it was now up to Britain “to take the necessary steps to enable an agreement.”
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Friday that Britain was disappointed with the tone of the bloc. Adding that there were only narrow differences in trade negotiations between the UK and the EU, insisting that the bloc should show more “flexibility” to get an agreement across the line.
Raab told the BBC that there were still differences on two issues: EU boats’ access to British fishing waters and “equal terms” rules to ensure fair economic competition between Britain and the bloc.
An exit without agreement would hit businesses and jobs on both sides and amplify the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.
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But months of talks have apparently stopped.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the veteran diplomat, tried to calm the temper on Friday, saying “we asked Britain to be willing to compromise. This means, of course, that we also have to compromise.”
While EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier signaled, he expected the talks to continue.
“The negotiations are not over,” he said, adding that his team would be London-bound for more talks next week and planned to host negotiations in Brussels the week after that. The UK has not publicly accepted this timetable.
Confidence between the two sides, which had already been shattered by years of Brexit disaster, took another nosedive last month when Johnson introduced legislation that could only violate parts of the withdrawal agreement he himself signed with the EU only last year. His move triggered resignation in protest.