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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Johnson says failure to secure Brexit deal will be EU’s fault

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It will be the European Union’s fault if the UK fails to secure a Brexit deal, Boris Johnson has claimed.

The Prime Minister has demanded wholesale changes to the deal reached by Theresa May with Brussels, including scrapping the Northern Irish backstop.

Having set out his demands to the EU’s members it was now “their call” whether they wanted a deal, he said.

Mr Johnson made the comments during a visit to Wales where he promised help for farmers facing a “tricky” situation if a no-deal Brexit results in tariffs pricing them out of EU markets.

The Prime Minister was also visiting Brecon and Radnorshire ahead of Thursday’s crunch by-election which could see his Tory-DUP majority in the Commons cut to just one.

The latest stage of Mr Johnson’s tour of the UK came as:

  • Sterling continued to take a hammering against the dollar and euro amid concerns over a no-deal Brexit, heading for its worst month for nearly three years
  • Ireland’s Leo Varadkar told the Prime Minister the backstop was “necessary” and the Brexit deal “could not be reopened”
  • Sheep farmers warned of civil unrest in the event of a no-deal scenario.

The Prime Minister has promised that the UK will leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal and demanded the abolition of the backstop, the contingency plan aimed at preventing a hard border with Ireland in all circumstances.

Mr Johnson said the UK was not aiming for a no-deal Brexit but the situation was “very much up to our friends and partners across the Channel”.

“They know that three times the House of Commons has thrown out that backstop, there’s no way that we can get it through, we have to have that backstop out of the deal, we cannot go on with the Withdrawal Agreement as it currently is,” he said.

“If they understand that then I think we are going to be at the races. If they can’t compromise, if they really can’t do it, then clearly we have to get ready for a no-deal exit.”

He said it was “up to the EU, this is their call if they want us to do this” but “unless we are determined to do it they won’t take us seriously in the course of the negotiations”.

With an eye on Thursday’s by-election, Mr Johnson pleaded with Leave-supporting voters not to back Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Tory Chris Davies lost the seat following his conviction for submitting fake expenses invoices but is fighting to regain it in the contest triggered by a recall petition.

The Liberal Democrats are hopeful of regaining a constituency they held until 2015 and have been boosted by Plaid Cymru’s decision not to field a candidate in order to avoid splitting the pro-EU vote.

Mr Johnson is clearly concerned that Leave voters could split between the Tories and the Brexit Party.

He said: “The Brexit Party cannot deliver Brexit, only the Conservatives can.”

Mr Johnson also faces a difficult meeting with First Minister Mark Drakeford who said he would give him a “very clear message” that “Brexit will be catastrophic for Wales”.

“It will decimate our agricultural and manufacturing sectors and risks ripping the union apart,” he said.

“The PM must stop playing fast and loose with our country.”

Mr Johnson was using the visit to highlight support for farmers, claiming they will be boosted by leaving the EU’s common agricultural policy and by the UK signing new trade deals.

During a tour of a poultry farm near Newport he said: “We’ll make sure (the farming sector) have the support they need. If their markets are going to be tricky, then we will help them to find new markets. We have interventions that are aimed to support their incomes.”

Meanwhile Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns has suggested new global markets, including in Japan, will be available to sheep producers after Brexit.

But the benefits of the EU-Japan trade deal will be lost unless a replacement arrangement is in place by October 31.

In the event of a no-deal, there could be tariffs of around 40% on lamb and sheep meat exports to EU markets if the UK ends up trading with the bloc World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.

Helen Roberts, development officer for the National Sheep Association (NSA) in Wales called on Mr Johnson to “stop playing Russian roulette with the industry, which he appears to be doing at the moment”.

Asked about the possibility of civil unrest, including roadblocks and tractor protests, among sheep producers, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think they will, I think it’s time to come and stand up for ourselves and be counted.”

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