LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he was more optimistic than European officials that a post-Brexit trading deal could be struck but said Britain could leave the bloc without a comprehensive agreement if needed.
Johnson said he was a bit more optimistic than EU negotiator Michel Barnier, who said this week that serious divergences remained and Britain needed to respect the EU’s position. Johnson said if no deal was struck then an “Australia-style” arrangement would be a “very good option”.
Britain left the world’s largest trading bloc on Jan. 31 but remains a member in all but name until year end. There has thus far been little progress on designing a new trading relationship.
Both sides had hoped this week’s negotiations would reboot the process but again little progress was made and a one-on-one meeting between the chief negotiators was called off.
Asked by LBC Radio if the government was being disrespectful of EU rules, Johnson replied: “No, not remotely”.
He added that, having voted to leave the European Union, it would be wrong for the country to continue to comply with EU laws or “hand over our amazing fish stocks, so we’re not going to do that.”
“We now need to make sure that we get a good deal,” he said. “Actually… I’m a bit more optimistic than Michel is there, there is a good agreement to be reached but obviously if we can’t then we will have the very good option also of an Australian-style arrangement.”
Australia does not have a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU. Much of EU-Australia trade follows default World Trade Organization rules, though specific agreements are in place for certain goods.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; writing by Costas Pitas, editing by William James)