Brexit warning: EU told UK will stand firm on trade demands to honour pledge to Brexiteers
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Negotiations on the future partnership between the UK and EU began in March, with the hope of striking a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) before the end of the 11-month transition period on December 31 – a deadline Boris Johnson refused to extend. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has launched furious attacks against the UK negotiating team, lamenting their refusal to give ground on several red lines, predominantly fisheries, state aid and the EU’s level playing field. Last month, he set a “strict” deadline of October 31 for a trade deal to be agreed, so it can be ratified by the European Parliament before the transition period deadline at the end of the year.
But seven rounds of official talks have resulted in repeated deadlocks and ahead of the next set of negotiations in London next week, the prospect of a no deal Brexit has intensified.
Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group think tank, acknowledged Mr Johnson is no closer than predecessor Theresa May to strike a deal with the EU, as the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels is “barely any different”.
But he said the significant difference is the current UK Government would now willingly press ahead with a no-deal Brexit as opposed to conceding vital ground on the key red lines.
Mr Harris-Quinney told Express.co.uk: “Boris has not been any closer to agreeing a deal than May, and his proposed deal is barely any different.
“What is different this time is I think the Government would now willingly opt for a no deal settlement rather than concede on their red lines.
“I think the Government has learned the lesson that they need to honour their commitment to Brexit and Brexiteers and stick to their red lines for a deal, or opt for a no deal.
“We can be confident that the UK government is now genuinely willing to walk away with a no deal settlement.
“If they blink and buckle and don’t deliver on that, whilst a future election may be years away, they will instantly lose their credibility and authority in totality.”
He also warned: “Coronavirus has made things more complicated but this government is only in power because of its commitment to fulfil the requirements of a full Brexit.
“Prior to Coronavirus the UK was probably in a stronger position vs the EU, but at the moment neither side want additional complications.
“The EU may be larger than the UK but has more pressing economic issues.”
Mr Johnson’s most senior officials now only think there will is a 30-40 percent chance of a trade agreement being struck due to the deadlocked negotiations over state aid rules.
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If no deal is agreed before the end of the transition period, London and Brussels will fall back to trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms – adding tariffs to a range of exports, including fish.
But the UK’s desire to use state aid to bulk up its technology sector means the Boris Johnson’s top team are unwilling to budge in negotiations on this crucial red line.
The Prime Minister does not want to agree to any new state aid rules with the EU that would prevent the Government from actively investing in the technologies of the future – a plan that puts him on a direct collision course with Brussels.
Mr Harris-Quinney has urged him not to repeat a critical mistake made by Mrs May, which could again lead to “political turmoil”.
He said: “At the moment, due to the lack of time remaining until the deadline and the evident lack of progress, a no-deal outcome is the most likely.
“Often these standoffs present late drama, but I think for an agreement the EU would now need to concede ground. The UK Government has no wiggle room to do so.
“I would therefore assess a no-deal Brexit to be a very likely outcome.
“The UK Government cannot afford to capitulate before the UK public.
“This is the fatal error Theresa May made, and it led to complete political turmoil.”
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