Angela Merkel has said that Britain will have to “live with the consequences” of Boris Johnson’s decision to ditch Theresa May’s plans for close alignment with the European Union after Brexit.
With the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looming large after the UK rejected EU demands for a level playing field on environmental and consumer protections and workplace rights, Ms Merkel said that the prime minister’s position pointed towards a “less closely interconnected economy” following the end of a transition period in December.
And she appeared to dash London’s hopes that Germany will devote its six-month presidency of the EU – starting next week – to pushing through a last-minute deal, stating instead that her priority was a pandemic rescue plan for the European economy.
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Ms Merkel was speaking just days after the fourth anniversary of the UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU and almost five months after the formal date of Brexit on 31 January.
Her comments came as the regular European Social Survey by City University London found that 56.8 per cent of Britons would now vote to Remain in or rejoin the EU, compared to just 34.9 per cent who would vote to Leave – the equivalent of a commanding 62-38 split once non-voters are removed. This compared to a much closer 50-44 split in the same survey around the time of the 2016 referendum
Meanwhile, a separate survey by pollsters Ipsos Mori found a majority (62 per cent) think it is ‘likely’ the UK will leave the EU on 31 December without a trade deal, compared to just 30 per cent who think Mr Johnson will get a deal by the deadline – and 25 per cent who think he can get a deal which is good for Britain.
Almost half (49 per cent) were dissatisfied with Mr Johnson’s handling of Brexit, compared to 38 per cent who were satisfied.
Ms Merkel has previously repeatedly stressed her readiness to strike a deal which would maintain the UK’s current flow of imports and exports with the continent.
But her comments today suggest she now accepts that commercial ties will be less deep unless Mr Johnson amends his plans.
Speaking to a group of European newspapers including the UK’s Guardian, she said: “We need to let go of the idea that it is for us to define what Britain should want. That is for Britain to define – and we, the EU27, will respond appropriately.
“With prime minister Boris Johnson, the British government wants to define for itself what relationship it will have with us after the country leaves.
“It will then have to live with the consequences, of course, that is to say with a less closely interconnected economy.
“If Britain does not want to have rules on the environment and the labour market or social standards that compare with those of the EU, our relations will be less close. That will mean it does not want standards to go on developing along parallel lines.”
Negotiations on a future trade and security relationship between the UK and EU are to resume on Monday after six months in which little progress has been made.
Mr Johnson has formally informed Brussels that he will not take advantage of a two-year extension of talks before Tuesday’s deadline, leaving him six months to strike a deal or see the UK crash out on World Trade Organisation terms with the imposition of new tariffs and other barriers to trade.
The most recent Treasury estimates suggest that a no-deal Brexit on WTO terms could knock 9 per cent off the UK economy over a number of years.
Talks have stalled over EU demands for continued access to UK fishing waters and insistence on a “level playing field” on social, environmental and public health regulations.
Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator this week gave the thumbs-down to a possible compromise under which the EU would agree to give the UK the ability to break free from its rules – in return for the right to impose tariffs on its goods if it did so.
David Frost said on Thursday: “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.”
Keiran Pedley, director of politics at Ipsos MORI, said: “The public are generally pessimistic at the prospect of a good trade deal for Britain being struck with the EU before the transition period ends and the clear expectation is that the UK will exit the transition period without a deal being struck at all.
“Any sense of a lack of urgency in public opinion on this subject may be explained by the fact many are unaware of when the deadline for a deal is, as coronavirus dominates the news agenda.
“Of course, many Brexit supporters will be unconcerned as to whether a deal is struck anyway”.
– Ipsos Mori interviewed 1,127 British adults between 19 and 22 June.