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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Heather Stewart Political editor

Boris Johnson: no PM could accept trade terms offered by EU

Boris Johnson claimed no prime minister would be right to accept the trade terms being offered by the EU, as he prepared to fly to Brussels for last-ditch talks.

Asked in the Commons by the veteran Tory backbencher Edward Leigh about the prospects for a deal, Johnson said: “Our friends in the EU are currently insisting that if they pass a new law in future with which we in this country do not comply or don’t follow suit, then they want the automatic right to punish us and to retaliate.

“And secondly they’re saying the UK should be the only country in the world not to have sovereign control over its fishing waters. I don’t believe that those are terms that any prime minister of this country should accept.”

Johnson was appearing at prime minister’s questions before travelling to Brussels for talks over dinner with the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, said the dinner, which would begin after a short meeting at 7pm, would not be a negotiation. “It’s a dinner, a conversation between two political leaders,” she said. “The prime minister is going to be clear this evening that he can’t accept anything that undermines our ability to control our laws, or to control our waters. He’s going to put that clearly to Ursula von der Leyen to see what her response is.”

In the Commons, challenged by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, about the risks of a no-deal exit from the transition period on 1 January, Johnson claimed the UK would be “a magnet for overseas investment”, whatever the outcome.

“There will be jobs created in this country, throughout the whole of the UK, not just in spite of Brexit but because of Brexit,” he said. “Indeed, this country is going to become a magnet for overseas investment. Indeed it already is, and will remain so.”

He said the UK would prosper whether the outcome of the negotiations was “a Canada solution or an Australian solution”. The Australian solution is Johnson’s shorthand for a no-deal exit from the transition period on 1 January, under which the EU would impose tariffs on British goods.

Starmer accused the prime minister of failing to secure the “oven-ready” Brexit deal he had boasted of during last year’s general election campaign. But Johnson said that had referred to the withdrawal agreement, which allowed the UK to leave the EU on 31 January this year.

“We had an oven-ready deal, which was the withdrawal agreement, by which this country left the customs union, left the single market and delivered on our promises,” he said.

He added that the UK would be able to implement a new immigration regime now, raise animal welfare standards, and strike new trade deals with other countries.

The prime minister also attacked Starmer, who was appearing via video link while self isolating, about Labour’s failure to say whether it would vote for a Brexit deal, accusing him of being “sphinx-like” about the issue.

Starmer said no decision would be made until there was a deal to scrutinise, and he added: “My party will vote in the national interest.”

He pointed to forecasts from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility which suggested, he said, that the cost of leaving the EU with no deal would be higher unemployment, higher inflation and a smaller economy.

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