Boris Johnson says it’s “very, very unlikely” that Britain and the European Union will agree on a trade deal for life after Brexit as both sides wrangle over fishing rights and business competition.
As a Sunday (local time) deadline looms to seal a deal, Mr Johnson and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen have expressed their pessimism.
“It’s looking very, very likely we’ll have to go for a solution that I think will be wonderful for the UK, we’ll be able to do exactly what we want from January 1, it will obviously be different from what we set out to achieve,” Mr Johnson said.
“If there’s a big offer, a big change in what they’re saying then I must say that I’m yet to see it.”
The UK and EU are trying to nut out the terms of a post-Brexit deal to cover nearly $1.3 trillion in annual trade after Britain left the European Union in January 2020.
If an agreement is not ratified by December 31, border checks and trade tariffs will be introduced.
Months of talks are at an impasse, with the key sticking points fishing rights and business competition.
The EU is seeking maximum access to UK waters for its fishing fleets otherwise it won’t allow UK fishermen to have special access for their goods in the EU.
The EU also wants a level playing field for business, urging the UK to stay close to EU rules on things like workers’ rights and environmental regulations for businesses.
But Mr Johnson, who wants greater freedoms, said Britain was likely to leave the European Union without a trade deal in just under three weeks’ time.
Ms von der Leyen told EU leaders that a no-deal was more likely than a deal, an official said.
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen have given negotiators until Sunday evening to break the impasse at talks that are deadlocked.
But Irish Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday that he would not be surprised if negotiations between the UK and the EU dragged on for a few more days and there was a last-minute trade deal.
“It’s very often the case that these deals are done at the last moment because everyone needs to be sure it was the best deal possible and there is nothing else left on the table,” Mr Varadkar said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it drags on for a few days and the deal is only clinched at the last minute.”