Boris Johnson hopes for post-Brexit trade deal with the EU by autumn

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at a previous meeting in January. (PA)

Prime minister Boris Johnson hopes to reach a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the EU by the end of the summer, according to Downing Street.

Johnson’s official spokesman’s comments came after he held talks with EU leaders including European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen by video conference call on Monday.

A joint statement after the talks stressed that Britain’s Brexit transition period will end on 31 December, at the request of the UK government. It said both sides agreed “new momentum” was required, and hoped intensified talks in July would create “conducive conditions” for a deal by the end of 2020.

The high-level meeting was organised in a bid to break the deadlock as time grows tight to strike a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period. The withdrawal agreement previously negotiated only keeps Britain within the EU’s single market, customs union and other institutions until the end of the year.

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Business leaders have warned a new cliff-edge is disruptive for firms, and crashing out without a deal would exacerbate the economic fallout of the pandemic.

The UK government’s firm rhetoric over the past week on refusing any transition extension has knocked the pound, down 2.1% against the dollar since 10 June. It was down 0.1% on Monday.

“We are looking to agree a high quality free-trade agreement based on the agreements the EU has already reached with other countries, but whatever happens we will be ready for 1 January when we will take back control of our laws, border and money,” a Downing Street spokesman, according to PA.

EU negotiators are also not budging on their insistence Britain must bind itself to EU standards and meet other conditions to secure fewer restrictions on trade. The bloc formally acknowledged last week Britain would not seek to delay its full departure.

Last week EU chef negotiator Michel Barnier struck a quite uncompromising tone with little sign that either party was willing to shift on fishing rights, level playing field regulations, and oversight with respect to the future relationship,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

The talks on Monday afternoon are by video conference call, with European Council president Charles Michel and European Parliament president David Sassoli also present. The two sides have agreed to an “intensified” negotiating timetable.

PA reports Johnson will say the negotiations need to be “swiftly concluded” to give UK firms and voters clarity on what comes next. He will be joined on the UK side of the call by cabinet office minister Michael Gove and UK chief negotiator David Frost.

Johnson is also expected to say Britain is prepared to leave without a deal if one cannot be reached, despite the significant new tariffs likely under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

The latest negotiations are the fourth round of talks via video conferencing, with little progress evident so far. Talks will now be held every week for five weeks from 29 June, focusing on detailed technical issues, according to PA.