EU leaders intend to issue a warning to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson after election day that he has only “limited” time at his disposal to avoid a no-deal Brexit, according to leaked documents cited by The Independent.
In a draft communique set to be released by the remaining 27 EU member states on Friday next week, the day following the snap general election on the 12th of December, the European Council will reportedly warn of time fast running out to strike a deal, and a subsequent fresh round of negotiations potentially echoing those that have characterised the past three years.
According to the leaked documents, Brussels will confirm that Michel Barnier will reprise his role as chief negotiator, that side deals with individual member states would be ruled out, and a succession of make-or-break EU summits will finally resolve the issue.
The leaked preliminary list of European Council conclusions is believed to emphasise that “negotiations should be organised in a way that makes the best possible use of the limited time available for negotiation and ratification by the end of the transition”.
PM Plays Down Threat of No Deal
Earlier on Wednesday, appearing at a press conference at the conclusion of the NATO summit in Watford, the prime minister was asked whether he accepted that the UK could in a year’s time face leaving the EU without a trade deal with either Brussels or the US.
Johnson was also asked, reported The Independent, if he had made it "crystal clear" to US President Donald Trump that "neither the NHS or pharmaceuticals" would be part of future trade negotiations.
At that point, the UK Prime Minister abruptly halted the press conference, without actually ruling out the possibility of his country crashing out without a free trade agreement (FTA) in December 2020.
Johnson’s response was:
"I think everybody by now has rumbled all this for the nonsense that it is… I think I might wind up this press conference now because I think we’re starting to scrape the barrel."
Donald Trump earlier appeared to have accepted Johnson’s insistence that the NHS is not on the table in trade talks, saying he would not want it even if it was offered “on a silver platter”.
Later, talking to ITV’s Robert Peston, Boris Johnson made an attempt to play down the challenges of striking a free trade agreement in just 11 months, saying:
“Have you ever known two countries start free trade negotiations or start negotiations on a new deal when they were already in perfect alignment in regulatory terms and had zero tariffs and zero quotas between them? That’s where we are.”
Johnson has thus again been seen to dodge direct questions about the threat of a no deal Brexit happening as late as December 2020. Earlier on Tuesday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed that a no deal would “absolutely” be on the table in talks with Brussels.
In wake of the reported leak, the Liberal Democrats have lambasted Johnson’s earlier vow to be able to “get Brexit done” on 31 January if he wins the 12 December poll.
Liberal Democrat MEP Luisa Porritt was quoted by The Independent as saying:
“This leak proves the Tory pledge to “get Brexit done” is a fallacy. Within 24 hours of a Johnson victory, we will be locked into a panicked negotiation about our economic future with 27 of our largest trading partners, and with the clock ticking down. Mr. Johnson has not been honest about the horrors that lie ahead of us if his botched Brexit deal is allowed to proceed.”
The revised Brexit agreement negotiated by Boris Johnson that he seeks to implement in January 2020 establishes a mechanism for calculating the financial settlement — money the UK owes the EU to settle its obligations. The estimated figure is put at over £30bln, with contributions to be paid during the planned transition period — to run until the end of 2020.
The deal also involves the UK withdrawing from EU political structures, but stops short of guaranteeing a trade deal that would avoid disruption to food and medicine imports and transport and the erection of tariff barriers.
The deal also envisions a tight deadline of 11 months to complete, with the Conservative manifesto ruling out any extension of the so-called “transition” to full Brexit beyond the end of 2020.
The EU’s director-general for trade, Sabine Weyand, previously warned that the restricted timescale would only allow for a “bare bones” deal at best. The other alternative, she insisted, would be a no-deal Brexit.