Analysis: Why the Brexit trade talks are still far from over

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Boris Johnson has stopped short of slamming the door shut on any further trade negotiations with Brussels, and in the process fully committing to a no-deal Brexit.

The Prime Minister did not carry out his threat to walk out of the talks after after missing his October 15 deadline to have the deal “in sight”. 

However, unless the EU shifted from its red lines, he said, Britain would embrace the WTO terms of a no-deal Brexit from January 1, after the end of the transition period. 

He accused EU leaders of trying to keep control of UK legislation through level playing field guarantees and access to fishing waters after the end of the transition period.

All the UK wanted was a Canada-style deal, he said. 

Those demands rehearse long-held British positions in the Brexit trade negotiations.

The UK’s negotiators are as familiar as the EU’s demands for access to UK waters, robust enforcement of the deal, and commitments over subsidy law, which were also repeated in Brussels this morning. 

British sources said the trade talks are now over, but that claim was undermined by Mr Johnson himself. 

“What we are saying to them is, ‘Come here, come to us if there is some fundamental change of approach’,” Mr Johnson said. 

There are about two weeks before the end of the EU’s own October deadline to strike the deal. 

Michel Barnier let things slip on Thursday when he said he’d be in London for intensified talks next week, while Ursula von der Leyen has said the negotiations would take place “as planned”.

UK sources said there was no point in Mr Barnier coming to London unless he was prepared to compromise.

Angela Merkel indicated on Friday that the EU would compromise to get a deal, with the German Chancellor stating in Brussels that “these negotiations will continue”. 

Even Emmanuel Macron admitted French fishermen wouldn’t have exactly the same access to UK waters as before Brexit. In Brussels a deal seems closer than ever.

A Brexit trade deal could still be harder to achieve after Mr Johnson’s colourful intervention in an already fraught process, but it is not impossible, especially as the two sides are still talking. 

Strip back the rhetoric and the Prime Minister simply repeated the UK’s negotiating positions, and called on the EU to move closer to them. This is just as he has done before and doubtless will again. 

As his doomed predecessor Theresa May once put it, nothing has changed.