LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that the United Kingdom should prepare to terminate the agreement with the European Union, unless there is a “fundamental” change in the bloc’s position.
Johnson said the EU refused to give Britain a trade deal like the one it has with Canada, which Britain is looking for.
Refusing to yield to UK pressure, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said less than an hour after Johnson issued an ultimatum that the EU still wanted a Brexit trade deal, “but not at any cost”
Britain has threatened to withdraw from the talks if no agreement is reached by the EU summit, which ends later Friday.
Johnson did not go that far, but said the EU seemed to have “abandoned” the idea of a deal. He added that Britain would listen if there was a “fundamental change in approach” from Brussels.
Britain officially left the EU on January 31, but remains part of its economic structures until December 31. It will then need a new trade agreement or will face tariffs and other economic barriers with the EU, its largest trading partner.
However, the trade agreement remains elusive, and EU leaders said in a joint statement that Britain must now “take the necessary steps to make the agreement possible”.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Friday that Britain was disappointed with the bloc’s tone. Adding that only narrow differences remain in trade negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU, insisting that the bloc show more “flexibility” to reach a deal.
Raab told the BBC that differences remained on only two issues: EU boats’ access to fishing waters in the UK and “equal conditions” rules to ensure fair economic competition between Britain and the bloc.
Going without a deal would affect businesses and jobs on both sides and complicate the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.
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But months of negotiations have stalled at first glance.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a veteran diplomat, tried to calm her nerves on Friday, saying “we have asked Britain to be ready to compromise. This, of course, means that we must also compromise.”
While the chief negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, gave a signal that he expects the negotiations to continue.
“Negotiations are not over,” he said, adding that his team would be tied to London for more talks next week and plans to host talks in Brussels the week after. The UK has not publicly agreed to this timetable.
Confidence between the two countries, already weakened by the long-running fight against Brexit, escalated further last month when Johnson introduced legislation that could violate parts of the withdrawal agreement he himself signed with the EU last year. His move prompted his resignation in protest.