London, December 15
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeated on Tuesday that the most likely outcome of post-Brexit trade talks with the European Union was no deal despite EU officials pointing to some, albeit slow, progress.
With just over two weeks before Britain completes its departure from the bloc, both sides are calling on the other to shift negotiating position to secure a deal governing around $1 trillion worth of trade at the beginning of next year.
The talks have missed several deadlines, and while both sides acknowledge that time is running out, there has been no clear suggestion that either side is willing yet to move far enough to open the way for a breakthrough.
Updating for his cabinet team of top ministers, Johnson “re-emphasised the desire to reach a free trade agreement, but not at any cost, and reiterated any agreement must respect the independence and sovereignty of the UK”, his spokesman said.
“The prime minister made clear that not being able to reach an agreement and ending the transition period on Australia-style terms remained the most likely outcome but committed to continuing to negotiate on the remaining areas of disagreement.” Australia does not have a trade agreement with the EU.
Since Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met on Sunday to assess the state of the talks, EU diplomats have said a trade pact was still possible, but that the next few days would be critical.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Tuesday the negotiating teams were making slow progress, particularly on the contentious issue of guaranteeing fair competition, the so-called level playing field.
The EU sees the level playing field as crucial to protecting its single market, but Britain rejects having to be tied to any of its rules after Johnson promised voters last year he would “take back control”.
“I think what we’re seeing this week, having had a number of stalls in this process, is slow, but at the same time some, progress,” Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.
“My understanding is we’re making some progress in that area (the level playing field). I think you can take it that because negotiating teams have gone really quiet here, that’s an indication to me that there is a serious if difficult negotiation continuing.”
British officials have been less optimistic, saying there has been little or no movement in the talks since London accused Brussels of making new demands on December 3. EU officials denied that and some accused London of theatrics.
A final Brexit without a trade deal would damage the economies of Europe, send shockwaves through financial markets, snarl borders and sow chaos through the delicate supply chains across Europe and beyond.