Britain is unlikely to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, with just days before Boris Johnson’s July deadline passes.
According to the Daily Telegraph, ministers are working on the assumption that Britain will trade with Europe on World Trade Organisation terms when the transition period ends on 31 December.
Negotiators for both sides began their latest set of talks in London yesterday, but remain deadlocked on a number of key issues – including fishing rights, so-called level playing field guarantees and the role of the European Court of Justice.
The Telegraph quotes “senior sources” whose assumption is “there won’t be a deal”, though it apparently remains possible that a “basic” agreement could be reached in the autumn. Businesses have been told to begin preparations for a no-trade-deal departure.
With the latest round of talks between Michel Barnier and David Frost, the two chief negotiators, there is little hope of a breakthrough. No more face-to-face meetings are planned this month.
An official said: “The Government has been making it clear for a while that it is prepared for no deal. Britain isn’t going to budge on fundamentals like fishing rights, so it’s all in the hands of the EU.”
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Diplomats in Brussels added that the EU was ready for whatever the outcome of the trade talks. “They are right to work on the basis of no deal. We are as well,” a diplomat from a prominent member state told the Telegraph.
A source on the UK side told the paper: “There is a chance of a basic deal, not a phenomenal deal. We should know by mid-August whether there’s any chance.”
Meanwhile the Financial Times reported today that talks are set to drag into the autumn, and that talks were at neither “a breakdown or breakthrough point”.
The FT is also reporting that Johnson has abandoned hopes of reaching a trade deal with the US before the upcoming presidential election – with British officials blaming the coronavirus pandemic for slowing progress.
American negotiators are reportedly seeking greater access to the British food market – prompting a backlash from UK farmers.
Johnson has insisted that it is seeking to “rigorously protect” the UK’s public services – including the NHS – and maintain high standards on food and animal welfare in any trade deal, but earlier this week Conservative MPs voted down amendments that would have done just that.