To be honest, I did not believe British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would actually walk away from Brexit talks after his self-imposed deadline for progress passed, but it's apparently happening.
Johnson's government released a statement this morning to say will be no more talks and they even instructed the European Union's chief negotiator to stay at home.
“I have concluded that we should get ready for January 1 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s based on simple principles of global free trade,” Johnson said.
“With high hearts and with complete confidence, we will prepare to embrace the alternative and we will prosper mightily as an independent free trading nation, controlling and setting our own laws,” he added. [...]
Johnson’s spokesman said talks were now over and there was no point in the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier coming to London next week barring a change in approach.
“The trade talks are over: the EU have effectively ended them by saying that they do not want to change their negotiating position,” Johnson’s spokesman said.
Technically and legally speaking, Britain will not actually depart from the European customs union until 12:00 a.m. on January 1st so there's still time to avoid a hard break regardless of what Johnson said today, but that doesn't seem likely.
Brexit talks have been ongoing for four years and there's never been a significant breakthrough because, at the end of the day, there's no such thing as a trade deal that perfectly replicates European Union membership without actually being a member. British conservatives have set their sights on a unicorn that doesn't exist in the name of nationalism.
To say Britain will trade based on the same rules as Australia is a misnomer that's meant to downplay the significance of what's coming. Australia does not actually enjoy free trade with Europe. The two have a Mutual Recognition Agreement in place that streamlines the process of gaining access to each other's markets, but Australian goods are still subject to duties and tariffs. And ironically, Australia and the European Union are currently negotiating a free trade agreement to eliminate those tariffs that will soon apply to British goods after the Brexit transition period ends.
Johnson has also said Britain will trade with Europe 'under WTO rules,' but that doesn't actually mean what he wants you to think it means. It does not mean British exports won't face tariffs because World Trade Organization (WTO) rules do not prohibit tariffs. Moreover, the WTO is more or less defunct at the moment because Boris Johnson's friend, Donald Trump. has crippled the trade body's appellate court.
Free access to each other's markets is not the only thing that will come to an end soon. Leaving the European Union also means ending the free flow of people and labor and that was the original driving force behind the Brexit vote in 2016. The political campaign to leave the union came about because British racists wanted to end the free flow of black and brown people from mainland Europe. The economic arguments they adopted were just a palatable way to sell the Brexit to average (white) Britons. They sought to Make Britain Great Again, as it were.
If Johnson stays committed to a hard Brexit on January 1st, I can scarcely imagine what that -- along with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic -- will do to Britain's economy.