Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said the UK will “ultimately thrive” if Boris Johnson doesn’t strike a trade deal with the European Union after the PM said last night it was a “strong possibility”.
Dowden “desperately” wants the UK to come to an agreement with the EU before the current single market arrangement expires at the end of this month. However, he is not willing to give in to the EU’s demands:
“We can’t be the only country in the world that agrees to have a regulatory alignment provision that would mean as the EU in future years adds regulations over which we have no say at all, and if we don’t follow them we have to say some sort of penalty in terms of the trade relationship.
“So I think it’s right that whilst I and the PM and others desperately want us to get that free trade deal, it’s in the interests of both sides, it can’t be accepted at any price.”
When asked about the economic impact of a no deal, combined with Covid, Dowden doubled down on his resolve to not give in to the EU:
“That’s not to say we couldn’t survive and ultimately thrive with an Australian style WTO, but we’ve made no bones about the fact that first of all the free trade relationship would be better.”
In spite of the impasse, talks are ongoing with crucial chapters on fisheries, dispute resolution and regulatory alignment (aka level playing field) – as demanded by the EU – still unresolved.
There appears to be little chance of compromise from either side. Yesterday, the EU attempted to circumvent disagreement over fisheries by offering a 12-month extension to the existing regime, widely hated by the UK’s decimated fishing industry.
The move was seen by many as a transparent attempt to make the Brits seem unreasonable as talks look increasingly destined to come to nothing. However, the ploy looks to have failed given the dispute over fisheries concerns the UK’s own waters. Taking back control of UK waters was a pillar of the 2016 referendum campaign.
According to sources, the more promising attempt to reconcile differences was made by Johnson during his dinner with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier this week. At the dinner, Johnson presented “two to three ideas” that were “all but ignored”.
A Cabinet minister told the Sun: “There was a landing zone in sight but Brussels blew it up by bringing back zombie demands to unilaterally slap taxes on UK exports off their own back if they do not like what we do.
“The PM said it was outrageous and no one disagreed.”
However, the failed meeting hasn’t dimmed the Prime Minister’s eagerness to get a deal.
“I will go to Brussels, I will go to Paris, I will go to Berlin, I will go to wherever to try to get a deal,” he told ministers afterwards. “But looking at where we are, I do think it’s vital that everyone now gets ready for that Australian option.”
The EU is currently faced with a tremendous number of challenges. Yesterday’s marathon European Council session in Brussels yielded no progress on the future relationship with the UK due to drawn-out disputes over spending, immigration and a bitter dispute with Poland and Hungary over “European values”.