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The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, will offer to hold an emergency round of talks next week in a bid to avoid blame for any failure to agree a trade deal. Talks between him and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, are due to end today, but neither side is expecting a breakthrough. According to a recent report by The Telegraph, the Government is now working under the assumption Britain will have no trade deal in place when the transition period ends on December 31.
However, Downing Street said on Wednesday that the talks were not yet at “breakdown”.
Sticking points in the talks include the so-called “level-playing field” – to ensure businesses on one side do not have an unfair advantage over the other – and fishing rules.
With neither side currently prepared to give ground, Number 10 reportedly wants to show that if the talks collapse it will be the EU’s fault.
Mr Johnson’s readiness to leave the bloc on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms is in stark contrast to former Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy, who, despite often saying that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, ended up backtracking on her promise.
According to Mr Johnson’s special adviser Dominic Cummings, Mrs May committed a bigger mistake in the negotiations with the EU, though.
In 2017, the Brexit guru accused the Government of triggering Article 50 without a plan and said it was like “putting a gun in [your] mouth and kaboom”.
He claimed former Brexit Secretary David Davis and his team had “listened to bullsh** legal advice and led the British people like lambs to the slaughter”.
In a series of tweets, the former Director of Vote Leave said: “Vote Leave said: do not commit to using A50 [Article 50]. DD [David Davis] et al listened to bullsh** legal advice and led like lambs to slaughter by Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood.
“I said triggering A50 quickly without plan and legal preps for no deal would be like putting a gun in mouth and kaboom.
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“DD chose to do exactly that.
“The shambles now unfolding is a direct consequence of that historic unforgivable blunder.”
Mr Cummings’ comments were echoed by a 2017 report on Business Insider, which claimed that Mrs May’s biggest strategic error of her career was setting the Brexit time bomb ticking with Article 50.
In October 2016, the former Prime Minister Mrs May announced she would formally trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March 2017 – a two-year process of withdrawal.
The notice, the report notes, conveniently gave the EU six months warning of what was to come while at the same time, locked Britain into an impossibly tight schedule to prepare its case.
The report reads: “The two-year clock in Article 50 controls the entire negotiation: Any member of the 28-nation bloc that triggers it is automatically ejected from the EU with or without a deal after two years.
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“It can only avoid the two-year deadline if it agrees to a humiliating reversal or obtains a highly unlikely extension to the negotiation period.
“The most important thing is that the EU has no interest in giving Britain a good deal. Quite the opposite: The EU is incentivised to demonstrate to other European countries that exiting the EU leaves you in a worse position than staying inside it.
“So it is actually to the EU’s advantage to not negotiate at all, and just let the UK flop out of the EU with no deal.
“‘No deal’ is the least advantageous position for Britain, because it comes with no formal access to the European market.
“Once Article 50 is triggered, the EU can run out the two-year clock, until Britain is ejected in a ‘hard Brexit’ without any of its demands or requests being met.”
According to the report, Mrs May’s best strategy would have been to try her hardest to start informal negotiations and get an exit agreement in principle before pulling the trigger, making the Article 50 trigger itself a mere formality.
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