"EU's call" whether UK leaves with a deal, says Boris Johnson
Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that it is "up to the EU" as to whether the UK will leave the bloc with a deal on October 31.
Speaking during his first prime ministerial visit to Wales, Johnson said: “We’re not aiming for a no-deal Brexit, we don’t think that’s where we’ll end up.
“This is very much up to our friends and partners across the channel”.
Johnson was in Wales to discuss his Brexit plan with local farmers and met Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford for talks at the Welsh Assembly.
His visit comes as the Conservative party prepares to contest a by-election for the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency this week.
There are fears that Wales’ lamb industry could suffer in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with the Farmers’ Union of Wales warning of “civil unrest” that may take place in rural areas of the country.
A Welsh farmer implored Johnson to “stop playing Russian roulette” with the lamb industry while Drakeford expressed concern over the “lack of detail” in Johnson’s plans for how Wales would be supported under a no-deal scenario following the conclusion of their talks.
The Welsh Labour leader told Johnson that a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for the Welsh economy, but Johnson was quick to reassure that support for manufacturing and agriculture will be available under no-deal.
Johnson also said that farmers will “have all the support they need” when visiting a chicken farm near Newport.
He said: ”We will make sure that they have the support that they need, if there are markets that are going to be tricky that we help them to find new markets, we have interventions that aim to support them and their incomes”.
But Drakeford remained worried about “a deeply concerning lack of detail that is available to people whose livelihood is on the line”, with regards to the nature of Johnson’s support plans.
Despite Johnson’s assurances of new opportunities and support for agriculture, the Welsh first minister came away with little impression that his plans were any more than “vacuous optimism”.
He also warned the prime minister that "the future of the UK is at risk” while stressing the importance of preserving the union.
Summarising the talks, a Downing Street spokesperson said: ”The PM set out how the UK will be leaving the EU on October 31st, come what may, and said he would seek to work with the Welsh Government and other devolved administrations, to make sure communities across the UK are ready to maximise on the opportunities that Brexit will bring.”
The farming industry generates in excess of £6 billion for the Welsh economy and supports numerous businesses, jobs and farmers.
However, swathes of Welsh farmers depend on free trade with the EU and there is a fear that tariffs on exports that would be introduced after a no-deal Brexit could cripple the industry.
In a no-deal scenario, it is thought that tariffs on Welsh lamb may be as high as 40 per cent.
Addressing this concern, Johnson said: ”The most important point is that we don't want tariffs and we don't envisage they will be necessary.
“I think common sense would dictate it would be better and massively in the interests of our EU friends to have a zero-tariff, zero-quota regime of the kind we currently have.”
The prime minister also suggested that funds will be set aside for export refunds for the Welsh government to distribute to farmers in a no-deal scenario.
He did say that responsibility for implementing this scheme will be down to the Welsh government with Westminster ensuring that “the funds are available”, given the devolved nature of Welsh agriculture.
On Tuesday, Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said that new global markets are likely to be available to producers of sheep meat, including the Japanese market.
Concerns remain, however, that the Japanese market was originally available to the Welsh lamb industry through the EU’s trade deal with Tokyo, which Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster Liz Saville Roberts alluded to on Twitter.
However, Cairns emphasised that the UK government is still looking to strike a deal with Europe to keep its market open, despite Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove having said this week that the government is working on the assumption that a deal will not be agreed.
Cairns told the BBC: "We are now looking to the growth that will come from right around the world, 90 per cent of global growth will come from outside of the EU.
"But we don't want to close our back on the European market either and that's why working hard to get a deal is important, but of course there needs to be a shift in attitude and a positive response to the cause that we're making.”