LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that the UK should prepare for a non-negotiable break with the European Union unless there is a “major” change of position from the bloc.
Johnson said the EU refuses to give Britain a trade deal like it has in Canada, which the UK seeks.
Refusing to bow to UK pressure, EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen said less than an hour after Johnson’s ultimatum, the EU still wanted a trade deal with Brexit “but not any price.
The UK has threatened to walk away from talks if an agreement is not reached by the EU summit which will end later on Friday.
Johnson did not go far enough, but said the EU seemed to have “abandoned”; the idea of an agreement. Britain will listen further if there is “a major change of strategy” from Brussels.
Britain officially leaves the EU on January 31 but remains part of its economic structures until December 31 After that, it will need a new trade agreement or deal with tariffs and other EU economic barriers – the largest trading partner.
However, a trade agreement remains elusive and EU leaders have said in a joint statement that the UK is now “taking the necessary steps to reach an agreement.”
Meanwhile, British foreign minister Dominic Raab said on Friday that Britain had failed in the tone of the bloc. It added that there was only a narrow difference left in trade talks between the UK and the EU, forcing the block to show more “flexibility” to reach a line agreement.
Raab told the BBC that diversity remained on only two issues: the access of EU boats to the UK fishing waters, and “level playing field” policies to ensure fair economic competition in between Britain and the block.
A no-deal exit will reach businesses and jobs on both sides and combine the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.
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But the months of conversation seemed to stop.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a veteran diplomat, sought to quell the anger on Friday, saying “we asked Britain to be willing to compromise. Of course this means we also need to make compromises.”
As EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier signaled he hoped the talks would continue.
“Negotiations are not over yet,” he said, adding that his team will be heading to London for more talks next week and plans to host negotiations in Brussels next week. Britain has not yet publicly agreed on that schedule.
Confidence between the two sides, overcome by years of Brexit acronyms, took a further nosedive last month when Johnson introduced legislation that may violate parts of the withdrawal agreement that he himself signed EU last year. His move resulted in his resignation as a protest.