‘Unless EU changes course, U.K. to go for Australia-style pact’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday it was now time to prepare for a no-trade deal Brexit unless the European Union fundamentally changed course, bluntly telling Brussels that there was no point in talking any more.

A tumultuous “no deal” finale to the United Kingdom’s five-year Brexit crisis would sow chaos through the delicate supply chains that stretch across Britain, the EU and beyond — just as the economic hit from the pandemic worsens.

EU ultimatum

At what was supposed to be the “Brexit Summit” on Thursday, the EU delivered an ultimatum: it said it was concerned by a lack of progress and called on U.K. to yield on key sticking points or see a rupture of ties with the bloc from January 1.

“I have concluded that we should get ready for January 1 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s based on simple principles of global free trade,” Mr. Johnson 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,” he added.

Mr. Johnson’s spokesman said shortly afterwards 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,” his spokesman said.

Mr. Johnson’s brinkmanship, which follows an EU demand that U.K. make further concessions, may push Brexit towards disorder, though he left open the possibility that the EU could reconsider and offer Britain a better deal. “Unless there is a fundamental change of approach, we’re going to go for the Australia solution. And we should do it with great confidence,” he said.

A so-called “Australia deal” means that the U.K. would trade on World Trade Organization terms: as a country without an EU trade agreement, like Australia, tariffs would be imposed under WTO rules, likely causing significant price rises.

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