Brexit deal ‘impossible’ after Johnson-Merkel call

A No 10 source has said a Brexit deal is “essentially impossible” after a call between the PM and Angela Merkel.

Boris Johnson and the German chancellor spoke earlier about the proposals he put forward to the EU – but the source said she made clear a deal based on them was “overwhelmingly unlikely”.

The BBC’s Adam Fleming said there was “scepticism” within the EU that Mrs Merkel would have used such language.

And the EU’s top official warned the UK against a “stupid blame game”.

President of the European Council Donald Tusk sent a public tweet to Mr Johnson, writing: “What’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people.”

Mrs Merkel’s spokesman said her office would not reveal details of confidential conversations, but Ireland’s Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Simon Coveney, tweeted it was “hard to disagree” with Mr Tusk.

“We remain open to finalise a fair Brexit deal, but need a UK government willing to work with the EU to get it done,” he wrote.

There has been little sign of progress in talks between the two sides since Mr Johnson sent new proposals for a deal to Brussels last week. The EU has been calling for “fundamental changes” to the UK’s position on future customs and regulatory arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Officially, the prime minister’s spokesman said the talks – aimed at securing an agreement at next week’s EU summit – were “at a crucial point”, but denied they were over.

In response, Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon, said Downing Street’s response to the phone call was an “attempt to shift the blame for the Brexit fiasco”.

And Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson “will never take responsibility for his own failure to put forward a credible deal”.

The PM has insisted the UK will leave the EU on the Brexit deadline of 31 October, with or without a deal.

That is despite legislation passed by MPs last month, known as the Benn Act, which requires Mr Johnson to write to the EU requesting a further delay if no deal is signed off by Parliament by 19 October – unless MPs agree to a no-deal Brexit.

The key focus of the new UK plans is to replace the so-called backstop – the policy negotiated by Theresa May and the EU to prevent a hard border returning to the island of Ireland – which has long been a sticking point.

After presenting them, government sources hoped the sides might be able to enter an intense 10-day period of talks almost immediately, but a number of senior EU figures, including Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, warned they did not form the basis for deeper negotiations – even if they believed a deal could still be done.

The No 10 source said Tuesday morning’s phone call had been a “clarifying moment”, adding: “Talks in Brussels are close to breaking down, despite the fact that the UK has moved a long way.”

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