Boris Johnson has been accused of “playing politics with people’s jobs and lives” after announcing at the conclusion of the European Council summit today that the UK must be prepared for a no-deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister had set a deadline of October 15th for securing an agreement with the EU to be in place when the Brexit transition period ends on December 31st, but this target was missed and he has now escalated the ‘no deal’ rhetoric.
In a statement today, Johnson claimed the government had “wanted nothing more complicated than a Canada-style relationship” with the European Union but the summit suggests “that won’t work for our EU partners”.
Urging businesses, hauliers and travellers to “get ready”, he said: “I’ve concluded that we should get ready for 1 January with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade.”
The Prime Minister has not strictly walked away from negotiations, but said he has decided that the UK will listen only if there is “fundamental change of approach” from the EU side – and indicated that this appears unlikely.
Reacting to the comments, Unite the Union’s Len McCluskey said: “The Prime Minister must stop playing politics with people’s jobs and lives. No deal will be a disaster for an economy already suffering deep harm due to the pandemic.
“There is every risk that our country could experience its worst recession in generations and the Prime Minister’s reckless refusal to do a deal with the EU will only make things far worse for working people.”
The general secretary pointed out that the UK’s automotive industry “relies on 1,100 trucks delivering parts from Europe every day for it to function” and no customs arrangements will produce “chaos and delays on our borders”.
Although the Prime Minister has said businesses must be prepared for no deal, a new report by the Institute of Directors has found that almost half of UK businesses are not ready for the transition period coming to an end.
The research released found in a survey of company directors that 45% of all businesses are not ready for Brexit, with 24% telling the organisation that they are not certain they will be prepared by the end of the year.
The European Council has expressed “concern that progress on the key issues of interest to the Union is still not sufficient for an agreement to be reached” and has invited chief negotiator David Frost to continue talks.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab declared this morning that a UK-EU deal was still possible but said he had been “disappointed by the lack of flexibility that seems to have come out of the European Council”.
The PM’s spokesperson went further, saying: “The trade talks are over. The EU has effectively ended them by saying they do not want to change their negotiating position. The EU can either fundamentally change their position or we can leave on Australian terms.”
Labour has not commented on the latest developments today, with the opposition frontbench spokesperson in charge of Brexit policy Rachel Reeves instead focusing on the role of Serco in the Covid test and trace system.
Reeves used a LabourList and UK in a Changing Europe event earlier this month to warn that “leaving without a deal would be the very worst thing that could happen now”, though concluded: “I think on balance now there is more likely to be a deal than not.”