British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the Brexit talks are in a “serious situation”, suggesting it was “very likely” that an EU-UK agreement would not reached due to fisheries-related issues.
He made the statement following a telephone call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, during which Johnson pointed out that Britain “could not accept a situation where it was the only sovereign country in the world not to be able to control access to its own waters for an extended period and to be faced with fisheries quotas which hugely disadvantaged its own industry”.
The UK prime minister described the EU’s position on the issue as “simply not reasonable”, adding that “if there was to be an agreement it needed to shift significantly”.
Johnson stressed “little time was left” to reach a deal and that if no deal could be concluded, “the UK and the EU would part as friends, with the UK trading with the EU on Australian-style terms”.
The statement came as the EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, tweeted that the situation in the London-Brussels talks is “very serious tonight” because “progress seems blocked and time is running out”.
Ursula von der Leyen, for her part, remained cautiously optimistic about the negotiations and hailed “substantial progress on many issues”.
At the same time, she said after the phone call with Johnson that “big differences remain to be bridged, in particular on fisheries” and that “bridging them will be very challenging […]”.
Earlier this week, the European Commission president urged both sides to go ahead with efforts to try and resolve the Brexit logjam, adding that “as things stand, I cannot tell you whether there will be a deal or not”.
“But I can tell you that there is a path to an agreement now. The path may be very narrow but it is there”, she noted, saying that the “next days are going to be decisive”.
The remarks followed Johnson making it clear late last week that the UK was prepared for a no-deal Brexit, also arguing that there was “clarity” and “simplicity” in the move.
According to the British PM, the country’s possible “no-deal” departure from the EU at the end of the transition period was currently the most likely scenario, and the UK must “get ready” for it with “confidence”.
This came as Johnson and von der Leyen agreed to extend negotiations on the UK-EU trade deal beyond the self-imposed deadline of 13 December. The sides remain at loggerheads over the EU’s access to UK fishing grounds, post-Brexit governance, and so-called “level playing field” issue, which is designed to ensure neither party gains an unfair advantage.
The UK officially left the EU in January, entering an 11-month transition period, due to expire on 31 December. During the transition, Britain was expected to negotiate a trade deal with the bloc but an agreement has yet to see the light of day.