Johnson insists EU free trade agreement can be struck amid no-deal Brexit fears

Johnson insists EU free trade agreement can be struck amid no-deal Brexit fears
Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire

Boris Johnson has insisted 14 months will be enough time to secure a trade agreement with the EU, amid concerns the UK could still leave without a deal.

The British Prime Minister was challenged by former British Conservative minister David Gauke to commit to show “determination and flexibility” to ensure a free trade agreement with the EU is secured before the implementation period concludes at the end of December 2020.

Mr Johnson acknowledged the time available was a “blistering pace” but maintained a successful outcome over trade can be achieved.

Critics of Mr Johnson's draft deal with the EU believe it could still result in a no-deal Brexit if trade talks fail to make the required progress next year.

Speaking in the Commons, Independent Mr Gauke, who lost the Tory whip after rebelling over Brexit, said: “The Prime Minister said he wanted to leave with a deal and he has shown determination and flexibility to reach a deal, for which he deserves credit.

“He will be aware, however, unless we reach a free trade agreement in the next stage of negotiations that there is a risk that Great Britain will leave the implementation period without a deal with the European Union.

“Can the Prime Minister commit today to show the same determination and flexibility to ensure we do reach a deep and special partnership through a free trade agreement with the European Union before we allow the implementation period to come to an end?”

Mr Johnson said he had discussed the issue with the EU as they were interested in Britain’s timetable and as to whether 14 months is enough time.

He said: “I think it is enough. I think we can do it in 14 months.”

Mr Johnson explained the UK is in “perfect regulatory alignment” with the EU already, adding there are zero-tariff and zero-quota arrangements.

He went on: “We have a fantastic opportunity to do a free trade deal.

“Yes, 14 months is a blistering pace but we can get it done.”

Former Conservative chancellor Philip Hammond, now sitting as an Independent, earlier said: “Before I decide whether to jump on the Prime Minister’s bus, I’d like to be just a little clearer about the destination.

“I’d like to be reassured that it remains the deep and special partnership with the European Union that we promised the people in our 2017 election manifesto.

“And in the absence of the UK-wide backstop which has now gone from the package, the best way to give us that reassurance is to ensure a proper role for Parliament in the process in the future negotiations.”

Labour MP Seema Malhotra asked the British Prime Minister whether he has given assurances to some MPs that if trade talks fail in December 2020, the UK will leave the EU on no-deal terms.

She said: “Mr Speaker, have members of the Prime Minister’s cabinet given those assurances, and if indeed no-deal is not being ruled about by supporting the Prime Minister today, why won’t he tell the country the truth?”

Mr Johnson replied: “May I respectfully say to her as I say to all honourable friends and members, that if they wish to avoid a no-deal outcome, the single best thing we can all do is vote for this deal tonight.”

Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable added: “Can he reiterate what seemed to be his assurance that the transition will be extended until his free trade agreement has been concluded?”

Mr Johnson said: “Mr Speaker, I think if he’s worried about a cliff edge, and I’m not frankly as worried as he is because I think we’ll do a great free trade deal by then, the best thing he can do, and I’m looking at him carefully to see if he might have this in his heart, is to vote for this deal tonight.”

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