Brexit: Johnson allies blame Merkel as they admit deal hopes effectively dead

Varadkar hopes for meeting as Tusk accuses British PM of playing ‘stupid blame game’

German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister Boris Johnson: held a bruising phone conversation. File phototograph (August 2019): Stefan Rousseau/PA

German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister Boris Johnson: held a bruising phone conversation. File phototograph (August 2019): Stefan Rousseau/PA

 

British prime minister Boris Johnson’s allies admitted on Tuesday that hopes of a Brexit deal at next week’s EU summit were effectively dead after Mr Johnson held a bruising phone conversation with German chancellor Angela Merkel.

After days of gathering gloom over the possibility of a Brexit breakthrough, unnamed Number 10 sources on Tuesday prepared the ground for failure, with one claiming that Dr Merkel and other EU leaders had not moved “a centimetre”.

Sterling fell on the news, as Number 10 began a “blame game” strategy amid dark warnings that Britain would retaliate against EU member states and that talk of “sincere co-operation” with the EU was now “in the toilet”.

After comments from a Number 10 source on Dr Merkel’s stance in the phone call were reported, Mr Johnson spoke with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the Brexit negotiations.

“Both sides strongly reiterated their desire to reach a Brexit deal,” a Downing Street spokesman said of that conversation. “They hope to meet in person later this week.”

Elsewhere, EU Council president Donald Tusk accused Mr Johnson of playing a “stupid blame game” in his dealings with the bloc. “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,” Mr Tusk wrote on Twitter. “You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke,” the council president added, before asking “quo vadis?”, the Latin for “where are you going?”

Reacting to Mr Tusk’s comments, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney tweeted it was “hard to disagree”, adding that Mr Tusk’s comments “reflects the frustration across EU and the enormity of what’s at stake for us all”, and that a UK government “willing to work with EU” was needed to achieve a deal.

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‘No progress’

President of the European Parliament David Sassoli said he made no progress towards a Brexit deal during a meeting with Mr Johnson on Tuesday evening, urging Britain to come back with serious proposals for an agreement.

“I came here in the confident hope of hearing proposals which could take negotiations forward. However, I must note that there has been no progress,” he said in a statement issued after his meeting in London.

Although Downing Street has so far declined to comment on the telephone call with Dr Merkel, Mr Johnson’s allies accused the German chancellor of vetoing Britain’s Brexit plan, which would see Northern Ireland leave the EU customs union.

The Number 10 source said: “The call with Merkel showed the EU has adopted a new position. She made clear a deal is overwhelmingly unlikely and she thinks the EU has a veto on us leaving the customs union.

“Merkel said that if Germany wanted to leave the EU they could do it no problem, but the UK cannot leave without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union and in full alignment forever.”

“It was a very useful clarifying moment in all sorts of ways. If this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever. It also made clear that they are willing to torpedo the Good Friday Agreement,” the source said.

‘Real objective’

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Dr Merkel’s comments “now reveal the real objective of Dublin and the European Union”.

“For the United Kingdom to be asked to leave a part of its sovereign territory in a foreign organisation of which the UK would no longer be a part and over which we would have no say whatsoever is beyond crazy. No UK government could ever concede such a surrender.

“The EU is not interested in a negotiated outcome at this time,” she added.

Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, said of the comments from Number 10 sources: “This is yet another cynical attempt by Number 10 to sabotage the negotiations.”

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “The UK government’s attempt to shift the blame for the Brexit fiasco to anyone but themselves – today it’s Merkel – is pathetically transparent.”

With talks on the verge of collapse, another unnamed Number 10 source wrote a remarkable note that claimed Britain would punish EU member states if they agreed to extend the article 50 exit process. It also blamed Mr Varadkar for the talks breaking down. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019/Reuters

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