Proposal to avoid no-deal Brexit rejected by UK's chief negotiator

By Rob Merrick

A proposal seen as the best chance of avoiding a disastrous no-deal Brexit at the end of the year has been rejected by the UK’s chief negotiator.

With the talks deadlocked, it was thought the EU could agree to give the UK the ability to break free from its rules – in return for the right to impose tariffs if it chose to do so.

The arrangement would have avoided the feared cliff-edge on 31 December, when the UK will crash out of the single market and customs union unless an agreement is struck.

But, in a series of tweets, David Frost, Boris Johnson’s negotiator, announced: “I want to be clear that the government will not agree to ideas like the one currently circulating giving the EU a new right to retaliate with tariffs if we chose to make laws suiting our interests.

“We could not leave ourselves open to such unforeseeable economic risk.”

British officials had suggested Boris Johnson would consider the compromise, under which the UK would secure the right to deviate from Brussels’ standards in areas such as state aid.

The EU was thought to be sceptical – preferring to strike a firm deal, rather than set a path for future conflict in the relationship – but had welcomed what it viewed as new-found flexibility in London.

After clashes following recent remote negotiations, optimism had crept up that an agreement could be reached when face-to-face talks resume next week.

But, without the proposed fudge – kicking key decisions into the future – the two sides remain at odds over access to UK fishing waters and ‘level playing field rules’ to protect the EU from unfair competition.

Mr Johnson has formerly told Brussels that he will not seek an extension to the transition under any circumstances – leaving just four months to strike a deal, before an effective deadline of October.

In the tweets, Mr Frost said: “For the first time since March, we will meet face to face, in Brussels. We look forward to welcoming the EU team to London the week after.

“These meetings will be smaller and focused on seeing whether we can begin to make genuine and rapid progress towards an agreement. We will go to Brussels in good faith to engage with the EU’s concerns.”

However, he suggested it was for Brussels to compromise, adding that “some of the EU’s unrealistic positions will have to change if we are to move forward”.

“UK sovereignty, over our laws, our courts, or our fishing waters, is of course not up for discussion,” the chief negotiator added.

“Equally we do not seek anything which would undermine the integrity of the EU’s single market.”

This week, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said his team was willing to find “landing zones” for all the areas in dispute.

But he also warned: “We are ready to work on operational and clever compromise but not at the price, never at the price, of any unravelling of the single market. Never.”