Boris Johnson Threatens No-deal Brexit, but Not Walking Away From Talks

October 16, 2020 Updated: October 20, 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has once again vowed to get Britain ready for a no-deal exit from the European Union by the end of the year, but has refrained from walking away from the stalled Brexit talks.

In a statement delivered in Downing Street on Friday, Johnson said it was now time to prepare for a no-deal Brexit as the EU had “refused to negotiate seriously.”

But he did not say the UK would now leave the negotiating table, as he had previously threatened. And EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter shortly afterwards that the EU’s negotiation team would “intensify” negotiations in London next week.

However, Johnson’s spokesman said later on Friday that talks were now over and there was no point in the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier coming to London next week barring a change in approach.

“The trade talks are over: the EU have effectively ended them by saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position,” said the spokesman.

In his statement, Johnson said the UK had wanted “nothing more complicated than a Canada-style relationship based on friendship and free trade,” referring Canada’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU, which gets rid of most tariffs on goods.

But after Thursday’s EU summit, Johnson said he concluded that the UK should get ready for Jan. 1, when the Brexit transition period ends, with arrangements that are more like those of Australia, which does not have a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU and trades with the bloc mainly according to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

At what was supposed to be the “Brexit summit” on Thursday, European Council President Charles Michel said, “We are concerned by the lack of progress, and we call on the UK to make the necessary moves,” adding the bloc wanted a deal but not at any price and was ready for a no-deal scenario.

Johnson said the EU wants “the continued ability to control our legislative freedom, our fisheries,” and rejected it as “completely unacceptable to an independent country.”

“So now is the time for our businesses to get ready, for our hauliers to get ready, and for travellers to get ready,” he said.

“With high hearts and with complete confidence, we will prepare to embrace the alternative, and we will prosper mightily as an independent free trading nation, controlling and setting our own laws.”

The prime minister previously threatened to walk from the talks if no deal had been reached by Thursday, Oct. 15.

In a statement on Sept. 7, he said, “If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.”

But the door does not seem to have been completely closed.

Asked on Friday if he was walking away from talks, Johnson said, “If there’s a fundamental change of approach, of course, we are always willing to listen, but it didn’t seem particularly encouraging from the summit in Brussels.”

Reuters contributed to this report.