Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the UK is now preparing to leave the EU without a deal, as he accused his European counterparts of ‘abandoning the idea of a free trade agreement’.
Mr Johnson made the remarks after his chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, said the EU was ‘no longer committed to working intensively’ to reach a deal and had insisted ‘all future moves must come from the UK’.
Farm groups have been consistent and united in their opposition to a no-deal Brexit, which would see key British products such as lamb facing massive EU tariffs.
But Defra Secretary George Eustice has said the food supply chain is resilient enough to survive a no-deal scenario, and the Government’s food tsar Henry Dimbleby has claimed it would be a ‘cakewalk’ compared to Covid-19.
The Government is already preparing a no-deal compensation package for the sheep sector.
The Prime Minister said: “As far as I can see, [the EU] have abandoned the idea of a free trade deal.
“There does not seem to be any progress from Brussels, so… unless there is a fundamental change of approach, we are going to go for the Australia solution, and we should do it with great confidence and high hearts.”
Trade experts are split on the likelihood of an eventual no-deal Brexit.
Thing is, if Johnson now goes for the available deal (shifting the UK position) there’s more room for him to be criticised by strong Brexit supporting MPs for wimping out of his threats. So no-deal probably is now marginally the more likely outcome. t.co/5EdnvbqC2s— David Henig (@DavidHenigUK)
Thing is, if Johnson now goes for the available deal (shifting the UK position) there's more room for him to be criticised by strong Brexit supporting MPs for wimping out of his threats. So no-deal probably is now marginally the more likely outcome. https://t.co/5EdnvbqC2s— David Henig (@DavidHenigUK) October 16, 2020
(I still think there will be a deal.)— Sam Lowe (@SamuelMarcLowe)
(I still think there will be a deal.)— Sam Lowe (@SamuelMarcLowe) October 16, 2020
But the CLA warned farmers are under ‘enormous pressure’ and now face the complete collapse of their market.
“If the EU imposes tariffs, many farmers will no longer have customers for their produce and their businesses could easily collapse,” said the group’s director general Sarah Hendry.
“Lamb is one of the most obvious sectors to be hit, and a no deal could see them affected in spring next year when they go to market. Malting barley and beef also face losing their market.
“It is right that the UK Government has a tough negotiating strategy; no one wants a bad deal. It is right also to highlight the importance of the UK market to many European farmers who themselves will surely want a deal.
“But we should not lose sight of the importance of the EU market to British producers. And if no deal is possible, then government must come forward with robust emergency support measures to protect farmers until a deal is eventually struck.”
Food and Drink Federation chief executive Ian Wright also warned the PM’s statement signalled the UK is ‘heading into very dangerous territory’.
“The perils of a no-deal exit for Great British food and drink manufacturing remain as real as ever,” he said.
“We need leaders on both sides to find a way past the current impasse in order to progress talks.
“In the event of a no-deal Brexit, shoppers will – literally – pay a heavy price.”
NFU president Minette Batters appealed to Ministers to secure a tariff-free, quota-free deal as soon as possible.
“More than 60 per cent of our agri-food exports go to the EU, making it British farming’s largest trading partner,” she said.
“Reaching a deal is critical to maintaining those trade links.
“There will be significant disruption for British food and farming if there is no deal at the end of the transition period.
“The Government needs to be clear with businesses about the impact of no-deal and address many outstanding issues, such as ensuring the necessary authorisations are in place for agri-food exports and guaranteeing there will be sufficient financial support, advice and resource for businesses, provided in a timely manner.”