EU ‘must prepare’ for a no-deal Brexit as ‘limited progress’ has been made in negotiations, warns Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel said the EU would "continue to press for a good solution" (PA)
The European Union must now prepare for the possibility the UK will leave without a deal following “limited” progress in the negotiations, Angela Merkel has warned.
Speaking to the Bundestag on Wednesday, the German Chancellor said: “Progress in talks is, to put it cautiously, very limited.
“We have agreed with Britain to speed up the talks in order to seal a deal in autumn that must be ratified by the end of the year.”
She added: "I will continue to press for a good solution. But we in the EU and also in Germany must and should prepare for the event that an agreement is not reached after all.”
Asked in response if a deal was still possible, Boris Johnson's official spokesman said: "We want to continue to work constructively with the European Union and we do believe that there is a free trade agreement to be reached.
"But we've also been very clear that we will be prepared for either eventuality at the end of the year - whether that be a free trade agreement or whether that be a trading relationship based on that Australia currently has."
In June the Prime Minister urged European leaders to “put a tiger in the tank” as both sides vowed to find “fresh momentum” following poor progress in the early stages of negotiations.
The two sides struggled to agree on several key issues including access to Britain’s fishing waters after Brexit; the so-called ‘level playing field’ of rights and standards in future trade deals; governance of any trade agreements; and future UK-EU security cooperation.
But chief negotiator for the EU Michel Barnier cautiously claimed last week an agreement is “still possible”, adding that there was a “margin of flexibility” on key sticking points in the talks.
The time limit for extending the current transition period with the EU has now run out, and legislation passed in the Commons this week saw MPs back the end EU freedom of movement in the UK from the start of next year, confirming the country’s exit from the single market.
Ms Merkel’s comments come as Germany took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union from July, a post which rotates between members of the bloc every six months.
As a result, the German Chancellor will have a significant role in overseeing the position of EU countries during the final stages of post-Brexit negotiations.
Commenting on Ms Merkel’s statement, Naomi Smith, CEO of the pro-EU campaign group Best for Britain, said: “The German Chancellor’s statement highlights two deeply worrying patterns.
“The first is the continued lack of progress, despite the government refusing to extend the transition period.
“It is clear from all the available data that a failure to secure a comprehensive trade deal with the EU by the end of the year would amount to throwing what limited economic recovery we see in the second half of 2020 down the drain.”