Britain could walk away from EU talks in June without a trade deal and without publishing what the economic impact would be on the country.
Whitehall officials said they are ready to step up preparations for leaving the EU on bare bones World Trade Organisation rules if there is no sign of an agreement in crunch talks by the Summer.
Boris Johnson has made it clear that he will play hardball in the trade talks by refusing to accept the so-called “level playing field” with the same regulations as the EU after the transition period comes to an end in December.
The warning that Britain will walk away and set up customs posts with the EU came as Downing Street published its document setting out what it wants to achieve in the talks, which are due to kick off on Monday.
The document said “the UK is committed to working in a speedy and determined fashion” with a broad outline of an agreement in time for a stock-taking meeting in June.
The document stated: “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.”
Whitehall officials admitted that walking away from talks would lead to customs posts being erected at the UK’s border with the EU to allow the checks of goods travelling to and from the continent.
They also made clear that Johnson does not feel bound by the “political declaration” he signed alongside the Brexit withdrawal agreement last autumn setting out the future relationship between the UK and EU.
But officials were tightlipped about how they would measure the economic effect of leaving with only a WTO deal, promising only in vague terms that they would publish forecasts.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove later told MPs: “Whatever the outcomes of these negotiations, the transition period will end at the end of this year.”
Giving a statement on trade negotiations with the EU he said it is the Government’s aim “to secure a comprehensive free trade agreement” as well as agreements on fisheries, internal security and aviation.
Gove said: “We’re confident that those negotiations will lead to outcomes which work for both the UK and the EU, but this House, our European partners and above all the British people should be in no doubt - at the end of the transition period, on December 31, the United Kingdom will fully recover its economic and political independence.”
“We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in a pursuit of a deal, we will not trade away our sovereignty.”
Gove said that the Government “will require a wholly separate agreement on fisheries”.
He said: “We will take back control of our waters as an independent coastal state and we will not link access to our waters to access to EU markets.
“Our fishing waters are our sovereign resource and we want to determine other countries’ access to our resources on our terms.”
If not enough progress has been made by June, the government would revert to preparing for what used to be called a “no deal” scenario - trading with the EU on WTO terms, although ministers are now banned from calling the outcome a “no deal”.
Labour’s Pat McFadden said the document showed that the Government has made a “fundamental choice” to prioritise sovereignty over any economic argument whatever the consequences.
He said: “But isn’t the danger here that having made this choice the Government imposes economic consequences for the long term on the country in pursuit of a prize of a sovereignty which it ends up not using very much?”
SNP MP Pete Wishart was dismissed too.
This is nothing other than a routemap to the cherished no-deal - the real ambition of these Brexit zealots.
They’re even now prepared to break international law in order to achieve this outcome.
“The EU expect nothing other than the political declaration to be implemented in full, they expect that level playing field to be realised and they will not accept anything else.
“How many times does this government need to be told that the UK will not leave with a better deal, an arrangement that is currently enjoyed just now?”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady commented: “The government is recklessly endangering working people’s jobs and rights.
“By abandoning the level playing field, ministers are deliberately undermining important protections, like
And by making it harder to trade with the EU, they’re putting jobs and living standards on the line.
"A good deal with the EU should be this government’s priority.
But instead Boris Johnson is gambling with people’s livelihoods by again threatening a disastrous no deal.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, told reporters on Tuesday the EU would “not conclude an agreement at any price”.
He warned that if there was to be any chance of a deal by the end of the year, there could be no “backtracking” by the UK on past commitments made in the withdrawal agreement and the accompanying political declaration.