EU tells British PM Johnson to stop playing 'stupid' Brexit blame game

Marco Green
October 9, 2019

"Both sides strongly reiterated their desire to reach a Brexit deal", a Downing Street spokesman said.

At the heart of Tuesday's political drama was an early morning phone call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Johnson, regarding the UK's suggestion to have two borders around Northern Ireland - turning the existing (invisible) border with the Republic of Ireland, an European Union member, into a formal customs border (albeit with physical checks and infrastructure some distance from the border itself), with a regulatory border in the Irish Sea, allowing Northern Ireland to remain in the EU's "single market".

A spokesman for the German chancellor confirmed the call had taken place but declined to comment further.

Unusually, Downing Street then provided a readout of what Ms Merkel allegedly said, provoking an incendiary tweet from EU Council President Donald Tusk.

Tusk gave an insight into the frustration at the anonymous briefings over the Merkel call, the alleged content of which described by senior politicians in Berlin as "improbable".

In a sign that Johnson's last-ditch proposals to bridge the Brexit impasse have failed, a Downing Street source said Merkel and Johnson spoke on Tuesday morning and she made clear that a deal was "overwhelmingly unlikely".

The need to keep Northern Ireland in the European customs union - at least until the United Kingdom finds another suitable way to control goods flowing across the Irish border without the need for additional checks - has been the EU's position since the start of the Brexit negotiations.

"If this represents a new established position then it means a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever", the Downing Street source said.

A frustrated Mr Tusk accused Britain of playing with "the future of Europe and the UK" with no clear plan of what the country wanted.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he wants to remove what he calls the "undemocratic backstop" and has proposed replacing it by suggesting that Northern Ireland stay under European Union regulations, customs checks should be made away from the border, and that Northern Ireland's assembly, Stormont, would have the right to vote on the arrangements.

The briefings attributed to Cummings had suggested that Varadkar had gone back on his word by attacking Johnson's proposals for the Irish border, which involve a customs border on the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland staying in the single market for goods.

After the call, Arlene Foster, leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which supports Johnson's Brexit stance, said accepting the EU's position would amount to "surrender". "We are leaving the European Union".

The U.K. said, however, that it still hopes to strike a deal.

Finding a way to keep the border open without keeping at least a part of the United Kingdom tied to European Union trade rules has always been the main sticking point in the talks. "Frankly a deal on the basis of Johnson's proposals by October 31 has been unrealistic from the beginning...", he said on Twitter.

"Boris Johnson's Brexit plan appeared all but dead last night as the government admitted there was little prospect of a deal before 31 October after a day of furious recriminations". "We'll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal".

On Tuesday, the government suspended the legislature from Wednesday until October 14, when Queen Elizabeth II will set out the government's legislative domestic agenda.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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