Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that Britain could abandon post-Brexit trade talks, a day after he agreed to meet the head of the European Commission in a last-ditch attempt to break the stalemate.
With just over three weeks before Britain finally completes its departure from the bloc, Johnson is due to meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the coming days after negotiators failed to close the gaps.
The language on both sides has hardened since the talks faltered again, with Johnson describing the situation as “very tricky” and the EU’s negotiator saying the bloc was fully united and would “never sacrifice our future for the present.”
Both sides have called on the other to compromise to get a deal over the line, and see the meeting as the last throw of the dice to see if there is a political way through to narrow the positions.
Asked whether he would try until the last possible moment to do a deal on trade, Johnson told reporters: “Yeah of course. We’re always hopeful but you know there may come a moment when we have to acknowledge that it’s time to draw stumps and that’s just the way it is,” said Johnson, using a cricketing term for the end of play.
“We will prosper mightily under any version and if we have to go for an Australian solution then that’s fine too,” he added. Australia has no free trade deal with the EU, which means the bulk of its trade is on World Trade Organization terms.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was equally combative, saying on Twitter after briefing the bloc’s General Affairs Council: “Full unity. We will never sacrifice our future for the present. Access to our market comes with conditions.”