Britain could quit the EU without a trade deal and without any government forecast of the cost to jobs and business, it emerged on Thursday.
Under a new set of hardline negotiating guidelines published by Boris Johnson, the UK is braced to walk away from talks with Brussels as early as June if it fails to get the right trade terms.
And although the government is set to launch a fresh consultation on the impact of its plans for a bare-bones trade deal, it will not commit to publishing any economic assessment of the cost or benefits to firms and families.
In a further signal of Johnson’s determination to put national sovereignty above a deal with the EU, he has dumped previous joint commitments to abide by the same level playing field of rules and regulations.
The “UK’s Approach To Negotiations” blueprint, published today, makes clear that the government wants a “broad outline” agreed with the EU by June.
But it is understood that if no progress is made, Britain will walk away from the talks and step up preparations for a no-trade deal outcome, with new infrastructure at ports and airports to impose checks on goods.
The documents states that the UK is “committed to working in a speedy and determined fashion” ahead of a high-level meeting in June, and “would hope” that a deal could be ready to be rapidly finalised by September.
Yet it warns “if that does not seem to be the case at the June meeting, the government will need to decide whether the UK’s attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on continuing domestic preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion”.
Johnson wants a Canada-style free trade agreement by the end of this year, but the new government paper makes clear that Johnson is ready to head for a basic World Trade Organisation arrangement that it compares to Australia’s links to the EU. It would mean new tariffs and charges.
“If it is not possible to negotiate a satisfactory outcome, then the trading relationship with the EU will rest on the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement and will look similar to Australia’s,” it states.
The new document, hailed by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove in the Commons, also proposes a new public consultation on “the economic implications of the future relationship”, starting “this spring”.
However, it is understood that there is no commitment to publishing the outcome of the consultation.
The public and business would have no single figure on the financial costs or benefits of the no-trade deal outcome or even the Canada-style deal, it appears.
Negotiator Michel Barnier tweeted a holding response to the document ahead of talks next week.
Brussels is insisting that the UK cannot secure a Canada-style agreement because unlike Canada its closeness to the EU means it has much greater trade and is more of a potential threat to its interests.
But Gove told MPs: “We respect the EU’s sovereignty, autonomy and distinctive legal order and we expect them to respect ours.
“The EU has also argued the UK is a unique case owing to its geographical location. But proximity is not a determining factor in any other FTA between other neighbouring states with large economies.
“It’s not a reason for us to accept EU rules and regulations. Geography is no reason to undermine democracy.”
The promises agreed last October in the so-called Political Declaration cover everything from state aid for failing companies to work place rules, environmental regulations and taxes.
Although Johnson personally signed up to the joint statement at the time, Downing Street insists that his general election victory gives him a new mandate from the British people to tear up any move to close “alignment” of rules.
In what is sure to spark a new row with Brussels, the UK government also believes that references to level playing field provisions in last year’s agreement were very limited.
While there was just one reference to the term in the political declaration, there are 20 references to it in the EU’s negotiating mandate published this month.
The UK wants as much freedom as possible to diverge on trade regulations, workers’ rights, environmental protections and other areas.
The document states explicitly: “We will not agree to any obligations for our laws to be aligned with the EU’s, or for the EU’s institutions, including the court of justice, to have any jurisdiction in the UK.”
Paul Blomfield, Labour’s shadow Brexit minister, said “Brexit is far from done”.
Labour wants the best deal for Britain – in trade, security and all the other areas,” he said.
“That means maintaining the closest possible relationship with our most important trading partner. And it is that on which we will hold the government to account.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government is recklessly endangering working people’s jobs and rights.
“By abandoning the level playing field, ministers are deliberately undermining important protections, like the right to paid holidays and safe limits on working hours. And by making it harder to trade with the EU, they’re putting jobs and living standards on the line.”
Aside from trade, the document confirms for the first time that the UK will not take part in the European Arrest Warrant in its future security partnership with the EU.
The new negotiating guidelines also suggest the UK may halt its participation in the Erasmus programme that allows UK and EU students to study at universities across the 28 countries.
They state: “The UK will consider options for participation in elements of Erasmus+ on a time-limited basis, provided the terms are in the UK’s interests.”
Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Layla Moran said: “This will be a disaster for young people. Boris Johnson told us that there is ‘no threat to the Erasmus scheme’ but now he’s revealed that the UK has one foot out of the door.
“Instead of ensuring that our universities remain open, international and outward looking, these proposals show that Brexit means going it alone. Instead, the UK will presumably waste millions on a replacement scheme that won’t match Erasmus’ reputation or size.”