There are “low expectations” that a post-Brexit trade deal can be struck between the European Union and Britain, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has reportedly told EU leaders.
Ursula von der Leyen told leaders from the EU’s 27 member states that the “probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal” at a brief discussion of Brexit at a marathon Brussels summit.
She was speaking as talks between EU and UK negotiators continue in Brussels in an attempt to break the deadlock over the key stumbling blocks towards reaching an agreement on a future relationship, including a free trade agreement.
Last night, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was a strong possibility of a no deal, saying the EU wanted to keep the UK locked in the EU’s regulatory orbit, a claim EU officials have denied.
Mr Johnson made his comments after a cabinet meeting during which, Downing Street said, he was given the full support from ministers on his Brexit strategy.
Despite the lack of any movement on either side during Wednesday night’s dinner with Ms von der Leyen, Mr Johnson said he would travel again to Brussels, or to Paris or Berlin to try to secure a deal.
He also urged his chief negotiator, David Frost, to go the extra mile to reach an agreement with his counterpart Michel Barnier.
However, Mr Johnson said there was now the strong possibility of a no-deal exit, or what he euphemistically calls Australia-style terms.
He said Britain would prosper mightily in this scenario and it offered amazing possibilities.
In reality, a no deal will mean two-way tariffs on a range of goods especially in the agrifood and automotive sectors and will mean all other areas of cooperation, such as extradition, fighting crime, research, education, decline to a trickle.
Britain’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said the lack of a free trade deal would cut both ways.
Speaking to the BBC, he said “It wouldn’t just be us that would be worse off by not having a free trade deal, exactly the same thing would apply to the Irish who export large amounts of beef to us.
“Or, for example, the Germans in respect of cars they send us,” he added.
While the talking in Brussels will continue, there are no new initiatives on the table to deal with the level playing field or fisheries questions.
Yesterday, the European Commission published contingency plans so that from 1 January, if there is no deal, planes could continue to fly and goods vehicles could continue to move.
Already, there are long tailbacks of trucks in Kent heading towards Dover as companies attempt to move shipments ahead of the 31 December deadline, in just 20 days’ time.
Sturgeon worried Johnson ‘planning’ for no-deal Brexit
Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is starting to worry that Mr Johnson is “actually now almost planning for” a no-deal Brexit.
She told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that she thought the chances of a deal happening before the end of the Brexit transition period was now “almost vanishingly small”.
In the interview, Ms Sturgeon said: “I think the chances of a deal now are almost vanishingly small. They’re not non-existent, and I remain hopeful I guess, because no-deal would be catastrophic.
“But I’m starting to worry not just that no-deal is now the overwhelming likelihood, but that Boris Johnson is actually now almost planning for that.
“Exactly a year ago right now, the UK general election took place, and he fought that election to be elected as prime minister, basically saying that his deal with the European Union was off and ready.
“He later said that no-deal would be a failure of statecraft, and it was a million-to-one chance against that happening.
“Now, today, he’s saying it is very highly probable.
“It seems to me that all of that is because Boris Johnson is failing to grasp or accept that responsible, independent countries in the modern world have to collaborate and work with others, and at times pool sovereignty for the greater good, for the greater well-being and prosperity of their populations.
“And, you know, I think he’s about to take the UK down a very, very damaging road, and for Scotland that is made all the worse, because we didn’t vote for it.”
Britain’s culture minister Oliver Dowden said business were always warned that a no-deal was a possible outcome of the Brexit negotiations.
Speaking to BBC’s Breakfast programme, he said: “We have been saying to people for a long time, including businesses, there are two possible outcomes at the end of this transition period.
“One – and I very much hope we manage to achieve this – is that we have a free trading agreement similar to that which Canada has, or if we don’t achieve that we would have an Australian-style WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules.
“In both of those cases it would require changes because we wouldn’t be part of the single market, we wouldn’t be part of the customs union.”
Reporting by Tony Connelly, AFP, PA