Boris Johnson has said a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU by the end of this year is “epically likely” – but admitted he could fail to clinch it within the deadline.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning the Prime Minister said it was “very, very, very likely” the UK will get a trade deal before transition ends in December 2020, but added: “I’m not going to give you a percentage”.
It is “enormously likely, epically likely” he added, “but you have to budget for a complete failure of common sense”.
“I’m very, very, very confident that we’ll get a trade deal. That’s three verys there.”
Yesterday the Institute for Government said the only way a trade deal could be agreed within the allotted time was by making huge sacrifices, focusing on a bare bones goods-only deal, leaving services until a later date.
Johnson made it clear that Downing Street would be pursuing deals with other countries, telling the BBC: “From January 31 what we are going to do is start working with our friends and partners around the world, not just the EU.”
Johnson noted that UK “first became prosperous” by “championing the cause of global free trade”, saying the country would resume its leading role in making the case for free trade after Brexit.
However for Brexiters hoping that Big Ben – currently undergoing major works – might mark the moment the UK leaves, there was less positive news.
“The bongs cost £500,000,” Johnson said. “But we’re working up a plan so that people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong. We need to restore the clapper, in order to bong Big Ben on Brexit night, and that is expensive”
Asked about Huawei, the Prime Minister said Brits deserve the best technology available to them but kept his options very much open after US put further pressure on the UK not to allow the Chinese firm to supply equipment for 5G broadband networks.
A US delegation presented the UK with new evidence claiming to show security risks posed by using the telecoms giant, arguing it “would be madness” to go ahead with plans.
“The British public deserve access to best possible technology,” Johnson said. “If people oppose one brand or another they have to tell us what’s the alternative?”
But he added that he would not do anything that would jeopardise the UK’s position within the Five Eyes security programme.
On Flybe, Johnson told the BBC it was not for the government to stop companies going under, although he understood the importance of Flybe for regional connectivity.
The government is working hard to see what it can do, he added.
Johnson also admitted he was on holiday when the US assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, “but I worked very hard to ensure there was a European response”.
He stressed it was “not our operation”, which was why the UK had not been warned beforehand, but that he backed the decision.
“We aren’t going to weep tears over the death of a guy who had the blood of British troops on his hands. Our job was to make sure the US understood our perspective and to make sure there was no escalation.”
He also urged for “tensions in the region [to] calm down”, adding: “I don’t want a military conflict between us (and the United States) and Iran.” Johnson described the downing of the Ukranian Airlines flight last week as “an appalling error”.