Brexit-watchers have long been waiting for the moment when trade talks with the EU would finally blow up into a full-scale row.
Students of international negotiations know that a theatrical bust-up is often the prelude to a deal.
Yesterday, the moment finally appeared to arrive. Boris Johnson recorded a statement to camera telling Britain to prepare to leave the Brexit transition with no trade deal at the end of this year.
Pictured: Boris Johnson gives a statement on post-Brexit trade talks on Friday, October 16. Johnson told Britain to prepare to leave the Brexit transition with no trade deal at the end of this year
With just ten weeks to go, the PM said, it was clear that the EU was not willing to grant the kind of free trade deal it has struck with Canada and other partners.
‘They want the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries, in a way that is obviously unacceptable to an independent country,’ he said.
Without a ‘fundamental change of approach’ from the EU, there was no point continuing negotiations.
An hour later, the PM’s official spokesman went further, saying trade talks were ‘over’. He said the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier should cancel a planned trip to London next week unless he plans to adopt a new approach.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen responded to Mr Johnson’s comments by saying talks will still go ahead in London next week
No 10 had been considering yesterday’s showdown long before this week’s crunch Brussels summit. In the event, the EU made it easy for them. EU leaders removed a pledge to ‘intensify’ talks from their summit conclusions and said it was for the UK to ‘make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible’.
French president Emmanuel Macron said there were ‘no circumstances’ in which he would compromise on fishing despite the fact that, as he conceded yesterday, a No Deal outcome would leave French trawlers completely out in the cold.
With posturing of this kind, the PM felt emboldened to go further than he might have done in ramping up the rhetoric.
So is it all theatrics? Only up to a point.
The European Union has consistently misread the mood in No 10, where Brexit is seen as a long-term project which cannot be blown off course by the demands of short-term deal-making.
Some European Union leaders still seem to think they are dealing with a tougher-talking version of Theresa May’s government, which never seriously contemplated walking away without a deal.
But the new administration in Downing Street is very different. Those at the heart of government will not accept constraints on the UK’s long-term ability to diverge from EU rules. They believe the ability for the UK to forge its own path is the whole point of Brexit.
Johnson said the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured) should cancel a planned trip to London next week unless he plans to adopt a new approach
The Prime Minister wants a deal – and knows that leaving without one would be seen as failure.
Michael Gove, who is in charge of border preparations, is deeply concerned about the short-term disruption of leaving without a trade deal, which officials believe would disrupt vital supply chains and cause chaos in Kent.
And there are fears at the top of government that the collapse of talks would inevitably be acrimonious and spark a damaging trade war that could last for years.
So a deal is still possible – and still probably the most likely outcome.
But time is very tight. And both Brussels and the financial markets are under-pricing the real possibility that when the Prime Minister says he is ready to embrace No Deal, he might just mean it.
Boris calls of Brexit talks: PM says we must prepare for No Deal – because EU won’t budge
By Jason Groves in London and James Franey in Brussels for the Daily Mail
Britain should prepare for a No Deal Brexit, Boris Johnson warned yesterday as he called off talks on a trade agreement.
The Prime Minister said the EU’s ‘unacceptable’ demands meant there was no point continuing discussions.
And, with just ten weeks to go until the end of the Brexit transition, he said it was time for businesses and individuals to begin preparing for life without a trade deal, which will mean tariffs and possible border chaos in the short term.
Gove: Navy will help to protect our fishermen
The Royal Navy will protect British waters in the days after the Brexit transition period, Michael Gove has warned.
Speaking on board the HMS Westminster in Portsmouth, he said sailors will help in any future conflicts over fishing waters and help make ‘sure no one is abusing their rights’. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also said the Army was on stand-by ‘ready to help’.
Mr Gove’s comments on Thursday came amid a row with the EU over access to UK fishing waters, with president Emmanuel Macron claiming French fisherman will not be ‘sacrificed’ to get a deal.
Mr Gove said: ‘There’s always been a role that the Navy play in fisheries protection and that role will continue. In the days after the transition period, the Royal Navy along with the Coastguard, the Department for Transport and others will continue to help with fisheries protection.’
This map shows the extent of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone – the waters Britain will take back control of after Brexit. At the moment the EEZ of every EU member state is merged into one large zone which can be accessed by fishermen from all over Europe.
Downing Street went further, with the Mr Johnson’s official spokesman saying trade talks were ‘over’. No 10 told the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier last night not to bother travelling to London for talks next week, just hours after European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said efforts would be ‘intensified’.
A spokesman said there was ‘no point’ in discussions continuing next week unless the EU changes tack, although the Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator Lord Frost will speak to Mr Barnier by phone.
Mr Johnson left the door open to the resumption of talks in the coming days. But he said this would require a ‘fundamental change of approach’ from Brussels. He said Britain should embrace the prospect of no trade deal ‘with high hearts and complete confidence’. He added: ‘We will prosper mightily as an independent free-trading nation, controlling our own borders, our fisheries, and setting our own laws.’
Earlier Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested there was still ‘a deal to be done’.
Mr Raab said the differences between the two sides were now ‘very narrow’, with ‘only really two issues at stake’ – fishing rights and rules on state aid subsidies.
Mr Johnson’s comments followed an EU summit at which leaders dropped a pledge to ‘intensify’ talks and said it was up to the UK to ‘make the necessary moves to make an agreement possible’.
His spokesman said: ‘The trade talks are over. The EU have effectively ended them by saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position.’
Last night there were signs of compromise from some EU leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Brussels had to accept the UK’s right to diverge from EU rules in future, adding: ‘If we want to have an agreement, then both sides need to make a move toward each other.’ And French president Emmanuel Macron admitted for the first time that his country’s fishing fleet would be even worse off under No Deal. However, an EU source close to the negotiations said: ‘If Mr Johnson wants the EU to completely change its position, it simply won’t happen.’
The prospect of No Deal sparked a backlash from business leaders.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director general, said: ‘After four years of negotiations and so many hurdles crossed, this is no time to give up.’ And Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said leaving the EU without a deal would have a ‘devastating’ impact on the car industry, hitting the economy and jobs in every region of the UK.
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, said Mr Johnson’s words suggested ‘we are heading into very dangerous territory’, with No Deal likely to mean higher food prices. Allie Renison, of the Institute of Directors, warned that preparing for No Deal amid a pandemic would be ‘a Herculean task for many businesses’.