Boris Johnson and EU chief pessimistic about chances of Brexit trade deal being reached

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen both appear pessimistic about the chances of a Brexit trade deal being reached before the UK officially leaves at the end of the year.

According to a European Union official, commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the bloc’s 27 national leaders that Britain was more likely to leave the EU at the end of the year without a trade deal than with one.

“The probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity about the message Ms von der Leyen gave leaders at an EU summit in Brussels.

The United Kingdom quit the EU in January but it remains an informal member until December 31 when it will finally leave the bloc’s orbit after 48 years.

“It’s looking very, very likely we’ll have to go for a solution [where] … we’ll be able to do exactly what we want from January 1, it will obviously be different from what we set out to achieve,” Mr Johnson told reporters.

“But I’ve no doubt this country can get ready and as I say, come out on World Trade terms.”

That came a day after he said there was “a strong possibility” a deal would not be clinched, suggesting the relationship with Europe could be more akin to Australia’s link to the continent.

“I do think we need to be very very clear, there is now a strong possibility, a strong possibility, that we will have a solution that is much more like an Australian relationship with the EU,” Mr Johnson said on Thursday.

“That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing,” he added, backing the country to “prosper” if that was how things ended up.

Australia does not have a free trade deal with the 27-nation EU but does do business with the bloc, albeit to a lesser degree than the UK, mainly due to geography.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull told the BBC that Australia’s trade relationship with Europe was not considered “satisfactory”.

Both sides of the Brexit debate say they want a trade deal, but negotiations are deadlocked.

British and EU negotiators seeking a new arrangement on nearly $1 trillion in annual trade have been stuck on two main issues for weeks: how much fish EU boats can take from British waters and how far the EU can tie Britain into its rules in the future.

Trucks heading towards the English port of Dover were stacked up for miles this week.

Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen have given negotiators until Sunday night (local time) to break the impasse over fishing rights and allow Britain to be punished if it was to diverge from the bloc’s rules in future.

The EU official summarised Ms von der Leyen’s message, saying the “main obstacles remain”.

The British pound tumbled, stocks fell and implied volatility surged as investors started to price in the risk of a chaotic finale to the five-year Brexit crisis.

A no-trade deal Brexit would damage the economies of northern Europe, send shockwaves through financial markets, snarl borders and sow chaos through the delicate supply chains that stretch across Europe and beyond.

Some EU diplomats have suggested claims from the British are theatrics intended to wrench out a deal at the last minute, but officials in London said they cannot accept the EU’s current demands.

British Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum, told Sky News there was still “a significant possibility that we could get that deal”, but “that deal cannot come at any price”.

Mr Johnson said he was “always hopeful” that the British negotiators in Brussels would reach some sort of agreement.

“If there’s a big offer, a big change in what they’re saying, then I must say that I’m yet to see it,” he said.


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