'Epically likely' UK gets EU trade deal by December – Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson says it is ‘epically likely’ the UK will seal trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020 – as Brussels warns fishing rights will be the price of City access to markets

  • Boris Johnson says ‘epically likely’ there will be trade deal with EU by December
  • Stopped short of categorical guarantee saying ‘common sense failure’ possible
  • EU trade commissioner suggests UK must concede fishing rights for City access 

Boris Johnson today insisted it is ‘epically likely’ that the UK will seal a trade deal with the EU by the end of the year – despite Brussels warning the timescale is unrealistic.

The PM refused to give a categorical guarantee that an agreement will be reached before the end of the post-Brexit transition period, ‘you always have to budget for a complete failure of common sense’.

But Mr Johnson – who this morning gathered his Cabinet for its regular meeting – made clear he believes the ‘enormous’ probability is that a settlement will emerge.

The comments came as the cross-Channel haggling stepped up a gear.

The EU’s trade commissioner Phil Hogan has suggested the UK will have to surrender fishing waters in return for access to the bloc’s financial markets for the City of London. 

Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast: ‘Obviously you always have to budget for a complete failure of common sense, that goes without saying, but I’m very, very, very confident that we’ll get a (deal).’

Boris Johnson (pictured on BBC Breakfast today) insisted it is ‘epically likely’ that the UK will seal a trade deal with the EU by the end of the year

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (left) and Trade Secretary Liz Truss were at the weekly Cabinet meeting

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack (left), housing minister Esther McVey and Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry were in Downing Street today

The premier also gave another strong hint that the UK will seek to carry out trade deals with the US in parallel to those with the EU.  

‘This is not about a deal, this is about building a great new partnership. And from January 31, what we’re going to do is start working with our friends and partners around the world – not just with the EU,’ he said.

‘We’re going to start building new relationships with friends and partners around the world.’

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on January 31, but will enter a transition period until the end of the year.

Mr Johnson has insisted he will not push back the deadline, but critics claim that the timescale is too tight to reach a new deal.

Fishing is set to be one of the most explosive issues in the forthcoming trade talks, which will formally begin after the UK leaves the EU’s institutions on January 31.

The government has vowed to take back control of the UK’s fishing waters.

But several EU countries’ fishing industries – mainly France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Germany and Spain – rely on access to UK waters.

Ireland’s industry alone could shrink by a third, or equivalent to £428million-worth of income.

It means Brussels will almost certainly make continued fishing rights one of its red lines and offer something in return.

Ahead of a trade mission to Washington yesterday, Mr Hogan said: ‘There certainly will be trade-offs, particularly at the end of the negotiations.

‘The EU will be seeking concessions on fishery access – and the UK will very probably be seeking concessions on financial services.’ He also lashed out at the idea that a trade deal with the US could replace like-for-like any lost trade with the bloc, branding it ‘fairy-tale economics’.

By linking fishing rights to financial markets access, the Irishman departed significantly from Brussels’s stance on future trade talks up until now.

It is the first time such a senior official has raised the prospect of bartering access to individual sectors off against each other.

Tory chairman James Cleverly (left) and Health Secretary Matt Hancock were among the ministers at Cabinet today

The EU’s trade commissioner Phil Hogan (pictured in Brussels last month) has suggested the UK will have to surrender fishing waters in return for access to the bloc’s financial markets for the City of London

It also puts him at odds with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, who has so far refused to drag financial services into the negotiations.

As things stand, the EU is offering the City of London ‘equivalence’ for financial services firms after the Brexit transition period – a weak system that can be withdrawn by the bloc at 30 days’ notice.

Former PM Theresa May wanted to push for much deeper access known as ‘mutual recognition’.

But Mr Hogan’s comments suggest that if Boris Johnson wants to secure this level of access for British banks, insurers and other financial firms he will have to surrender Britain’s fishing waters.

The UK will enjoy full single market access until the end of this year, when Mr Johnson wants a trade deal to be done by.

According to the terms of the withdrawal agreement, both sides will also aim to have fishing deal in place by January next year.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said she would sound out the prime minister shortly after January 31 on how much he wants to diverge from EU rules.

She has warned Britain will get a less favourable trade deal the more it chooses to diverge from rules on state aid, competition, social and employment, environment, climate change, and tax.

Speaking in Luxembourg yesterday she said: ‘It is the decision of Great Britain how close or distant from the biggest single market in the world they want to be.

‘The closer they are, meaning a level-playing field, the more they are ready to respect the European rules, the easier accession to the European single market will be.

‘The further away, the less there is of a level playing field, the more difficult their access to the European single market will be.’ Last week she warned it would be ‘basically impossible’ to complete a full trade deal by the end of the year.

The remaining EU27 member states are currently thrashing out their red lines on the future relationship negotiations on everything from space programmes to security cooperation.  

At the weekend Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said the timetable set by Mr Johnson was ‘very ambitious’ if not ‘unrealistic’ and that the bloc would not be rushed into any agreements.

Mr Johnson has ruled out any extension of the Brexit transition period – which keeps Britain in the EU’s single market and customs union – beyond the end of the year.


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