Saturday, 28 Nov 2020

Boris Johnson told only way to secure Australia deal is by scrapping withdrawal agreement

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EU and UK negotiators will make further efforts next week as they attempt to strike a free trade deal. However, both sides have once again warned that serious divergences remain. Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, briefed national ambassadors and MEPs on Wednesday, claiming that the two weeks of intensified talks had left the two sides far apart on issues such as the level playing field and fishing rights.

He wrote on Twitter: “Despite EU efforts to find solutions, very serious divergences remain on the three main outstanding issues. These are essential conditions for any economic partnership.”

Mr Barnier’s British counterpart David Frost also updated Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet on the state of play.

He then tweeted: “Progress made, but I agree with Michel Barnier that wide divergences remain on some core issues. We continue to work to find solutions that fully respect UK sovereignty.”

With time running out to secure a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, negotiations are now paused while both sides reflect on the next step. Formal talks are expected to resume in London on Sunday or Monday.

The Government insists it is still preparing for the possibility that talks will collapse without reaching agreement on a deal before the transition comes to an end.

Mr Johnson has continually told the nation to “get ready” for an “Australia solution” to the post-Brexit trade talks.

However, according to a major new study conducted by the Centre for Brexit Policy (CBP), the leading pro-Brexit think-tank, the UK will fail to even get an “Australia-style” deal with the EU unless it scraps the withdrawal agreement it signed with the EU nearly a year ago.

Australia does not have a free trade agreement with Brussels, so the bulk of its trade is carried out on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

Thus, according to many critics, it would represent a no deal outcome with the UK’s largest trading partner.

The study claims that the legal guarantees the Government has already given to Brussels mean that Mr Johnson’s fall-back option cannot be secured without a major overhaul of past commitments.

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The CBP also points out that unless there is a big change of tactics, Mr Johnson risks breaking promises it made in the 2019 Conservative Party general election manifesto to “take back control” of the nation’s laws, borders and money.

CBP Director General John Longworth said: “The Government is caught between a rock and a hard place.

“A Canada-style deal remains elusive. Even the far less attractive Aussie-style agreement with the EU, which amounts to little more than trading under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, looks like a pipe-dream while the withdrawal agreement exists.

“The only way out of this mess is to accept that the legacy deal done a year ago, which at least broke the Brexit logjam that paralysed the previous Parliament and sparked Boris’s stunning election victory, is deeply flawed and needs to be consigned to the scrapheap of history.”

Mr Longworth argued that the Government can only deliver on “taking back control” and “getting Brexit done” by scrapping the withdrawal agreement and driving a new hard bargain with Brussels.

The CBP report titled “Australia deal” also reads: “Unless specific steps are taken to disapply the withdrawal agreement, they will continue to apply to the UK for the long term with debilitating effects on our laws, freedom of action, and sovereignty. This means – if there is no agreement with the EU – reverting to an ‘Australian Deal’ will not be a practical option.

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“The purpose of this paper is to explain why we have reached this conclusion – ie, why the ongoing harmful effects of the withdrawal agreement prevent the UK from ‘breaking free’ if the UK exits the transition period without an agreement with the EU – and to draw out the implications of this for the current negotiations.”

In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Ashford councillor and general secretary of the Labour Leave campaign Brendan Chilton also urged the Prime Minister to take a more radical approach with the bloc.

Urging Mr Johnson to scrap last year’s Brexit deal entirely, Mr Chilton said: “The withdrawal agreement was nonsense under [former Prime Minister] Theresa May.

“It is nonsense now.

“We need to tear it up. The whole negotiations were meant to operate under one principle: ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.’

“That is a phrase we remember.

“Well, we haven’t agreed on a future relationship and if we can’t get a deal, the UK should say that the withdrawal agreement doesn’t stand.

“It should say that we will operate on WTO terms and then in the future, we will negotiate a deal.

“You have to be hard in the negotiations when it comes to the EU.”

The prominent Brexiteer added: “For the EU, this moment is critical.

“They cannot allow a former member state to leave and appear to be better off outside the union than they would be within.

“If that happens, that is just flicking the domino and rest will fall. They are not gonna be easy to us.”

However, Mr Chilton believes Britain will ultimately get a deal.

He explained: “It will happen probably around late November time, and it will be presented by the Government as a huge triumph.

“But when we read the fine print, will it be satisfactory? Will it be Brexit?

“I don’t think so.”

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