Brexit: Boris Johnson fights for 'last chance' at Brexit deal in vital meeting with Irish PM after Merkel derails plan

BORIS Johnson is fighting for a last chance to salvage a Brexit deal after Angela Merkel derailed the government's plan.

The Prime Minister will meet with Irish leader Leo Varadkar as soon as tomorrow in a bid to solve issues around a customs border with Northern Ireland.


But the Irish PM played down hopes of a breakthrough, saying it would be "very difficult" to secure a deal in time, and "big gaps" remained between the two sides.

The pair had a long 45-minute phonecall last night, where Boris promised he would strive until the "last moment" to reach a deal with the UK but "not at any cost" to his country.

The last chance for a deal comes after a tense phone chat between Boris and Merkel yesterday morning.

No10 sources said an agreement was now off the table, making No Deal more likely than ever.

A No10 source said that "she made clear a deal is overwhelmingly unlikely" and "the UK cannot leave without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union and in full alignment forever".

The source added: "If this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever".

The call means Britain could be creeping towards a No Deal Brexit – with just 23 days to go before we leave.

And it will be seen as a complete rejection of Boris Johnson's Brexit offer from last week, where he proposed giving them a veto on whether to stick by the rules or not.

It was reported that Merkel said the word "forever" multiple times – stressing that Northern Ireland had to be tied to the block. This would effectively cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK.

The news means talk of a time-limited backstop where Northern Ireland stays tied to some rules for a period looks to be off the table.

But a hardline response from Irish PM Leo Varadkar has led to Brussels bosses pouring cold water on his plan – setting the tone for who is to blame for a No Deal Brexit.

It comes as:

  • A No10 insider said last night that Britain will treat EU countries who help to delay Brexit as "hostile" and will take away vital defence and security support – sparking a huge Cabinet row
  • The Government revealed more of their planning for No Deal to pile pressure on Brussels to move towards a deal
  • Ministers revealed that some food and wine from outside the EU would become cheaper if we left without a deal on October 31 – but prices would be hiked on clothing
  • A fresh poll showed that most Brits will blame Parliament if Brexit is delayed yet again
  • Parliament will be shut down tonight ahead of the Queen's Speech next week

A furious row immediately broke out with Brussels bosses – and Donald Tusk lashed out at Boris and called him "stupid".

He tweeted: "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.

"You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis? [Where are you going?]"

The PM's spokesperson hit back this afternoon, blasting: "It's not us talking in that language."

But neither he nor the German Chancellery would deny the incredible reports of the call yesterday.

Usually No10 will provide a vague record of what was discussed in a call – but the extraordinary attack on Angela Merkel is completely unprecedented from them.

Detlef Seif, the Brexit spokesperson for Mrs Merkel's CDU Parliamentary group said: "Johnson is trying to build a story where he blames Germany for a no-deal Brexit.

"To brief out a confidential phone call in such a manner is utterly unprofessional and infuriating to anyone who has been working on a deal."

The PM's spokesperson said it was a "frank exchange of views" in a call that lasted around 30 minutes.

They added: "The talks are obviously at a critical point.

"It is not acceptable for Northern Ireland to be left behind in the Customs Union."

Nigel Farage said this morning: "The EU were never going to negotiate in good faith. We simply have to leave with a clean break."

And the DUP's Arlene Foster said it was obvious now that the hated Northern Irish backstop was "neither temporary nor an insurance policy".

She dubbed Mrs Merkel's comments as "crazy" and added: "No UK Government could ever concede such a surrender.

"The EU is not interested in a negotiated outcome at this time."

She said: "The Prime Minister's proposals have flushed out Dublin's real intentions to trap Northern Ireland in the EU Customs Union forever, where Dublin rather than the United Kingdom's elected representatives would be in the driving seat.

"We will not accept any such ultimatum or outcome."

But Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was the Government's attempt to "shift the blame for the Brexit fiasco to anyone but themselves".

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has spoken out against the government's stance, saying: "I am clear that any threat on withdrawing security cooperation with Ireland is unacceptable. This is not in the interest of NI or the Union."

In a bombshell message last night a top source revealed that Brexit talks with Europe are set to break down within days, and warned the EU that any deal "won't be revived".

Boris Johnson will go on to fight a No Deal election and promising to get Britain out of the EU immediately, they told The Spectator.

"We will make clear privately and publicly that countries which oppose delay will go the front of the queue for future cooperation — cooperation on things both within and outside EU competences," the source said.

"Those who support delay will go to the bottom of the queue.

"Supporting delay will be seen by this government as hostile interference in domestic politics, and over half of the public will agree with us."

Boris said last week this was the last chance to get a deal done and if the EU did not cooperate, we could be leaving with No Deal.

The source said that if Boris was forced into another delay there would be no new proposals.

"We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal," they said.

That election will blame Parliament and the EU for the delay and argue that Boris wants to take Britain out.

"We will wash our hands of it, we won’t engage in further talks, we obviously won’t given any undertakings about cooperative behaviour, everything to do with ‘duty of sincere cooperation’ will be in the toilet," they said.

Supporting delay will be seen by this government as hostile interference in domestic politics, and over half of the public will agree with us.

This morning Downing Street has refused to deny the contents of the message.

The message also suggested that the Government have plans for how to get around the Benn Act – which Boris has dubbed the Surrender Act.

It would force Boris to go cap in hand to the EU to beg for a Brexit delay if he doesn't get a deal in place.

But the No10 insider said: "Our legal advice is clear that we can do all sorts of things to scupper delay which for obvious reasons we aren’t going into details about."

Downing Street have yet to set out how they would get around the law.

"Those who pushed the Benn Act intended to sabotage a deal and they’ve probably succeeded," the No10 source concluded.

"So the main effect of it will probably be to help us win an election by uniting the leave vote and then a no deal Brexit. History is full of such ironies and tragedies."

Their comments sparked a fuming row within the Cabinet this morning.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said: "I am clear that any threat on withdrawing security cooperation with Ireland is unacceptable. This is not in the interest of NI or the Union."

Minister Nicky Morgan also complained about the No10 source briefing.

One Cabinet source told The Sun: "Those of us who believe in a deal and care deeply about Northern Ireland and the Union made our points."

This morning ex-Cabinet minister Amber Rudd predicted the memo had come from Dominic Cummings.

She told the BBC: "It sounds angry and desperate.

"The language that is used, I do not believe should be the language of a Government."


Why have Brexit talks broken down?

  • EU politicians branded Boris' plans a "joke" and said they were designed to be rejected
  • They claimed last night that the PM's plan to take Northern Ireland out of the EU's customs union would cause "major disruption" to the economy
  • It said Brussels didn't accept that the people of Northern Ireland should be asked to consent to the rules
  • Leo Varadkar is said to have reneged on promises to make concessions alongside the UK
  • He has said the current plans do not form the basis for negotiations
  • Boris suggested that Northern Ireland would leave the EU's customs union but Nothern Ireland would have a vote on applying EU rules
  • Customs checks would be decentralised and paperwork would be electronic

Full No10 strategy text

THE negotiations will probably end this week.

Varadkar doesn’t want to negotiate. Varadkar was keen on talking before the Benn Act when he thought that the choice would be ‘new deal or no deal’.

Since the Benn Act passed he has gone very cold and in the last week the official channels and the backchannels have also gone cold.

Varadkar has also gone back on his commitments — he said if we moved on manufactured goods then he would also move but instead he just attacked us publicly.

It’s clear he wants to gamble on a second referendum and that he’s encouraging Barnier to stick to the line that the UK cannot leave the EU without leaving Northern Ireland behind.

There are quite a few people in Paris and Berlin who would like to discuss our offer but Merkel and Macron won’t push Barnier unless Ireland says it wants to negotiate.

Those who think Merkel will help us are deluded.

As things stand, Dublin will do nothing, hoping we offer more, then at the end of this week they may say ‘OK, let’s do a Northern Ireland only backstop with a time limit’, which is what various players have been hinting at, then we’ll say No, and that will probably be the end.

Varadkar thinks that either there will be a referendum or we win a majority but we will just put this offer back on the table so he thinks he can’t lose by refusing to compromise now.

Given his assumptions, Varadkar’s behaviour is arguably rational but his assumptions are, I think, false. Ireland and Brussels listen to all the people who lost the referendum, they don’t listen to those who won the referendum and they don’t understand the electoral dynamics here.

If this deal dies in the next few days, then it won’t be revived. To marginalise the Brexit Party, we will have to fight the election on the basis of ‘no more delays, get Brexit done immediately’.

They thought that if May went then Brexit would get softer.

It seems few have learned from this mistake.

They think we’re bluffing and there’s nothing we can do about that, not least given the way May and Hammond constantly talked tough then folded.

So, if talks go nowhere this week, the next phase will require us to set out our view on the Surrender Act. The Act imposes narrow duties. Our legal advice is clear that we can do all sorts of things to scupper delay which for obvious reasons we aren’t going into details about. Different lawyers see the “frustration principle” very differently especially on a case like this where there is no precedent for primary legislation directing how the PM conducts international discussions.

We will make clear privately and publicly that countries which oppose delay will go the front of the queue for future cooperation — cooperation on things both within and outside EU competences.

Those who support  delay will go to the bottom of the queue. [This source also made clear that defence and security cooperation will inevitably be affected if the EU tries to keep Britain in against the will of its government]

Supporting delay will be seen by this government as hostile interference in domestic politics, and over half of the public will agree with us.

We will also make clear that this government will not negotiate further so any delay would be totally pointless.  They think now that if there is another delay we will keep coming back with new proposals.

This won’t happen. We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal.

When they say ‘so what is the point of delay?’, we will say “This is not our delay, the government is not asking for a delay — Parliament is sending you a letter and Parliament is asking for a delay but official government policy remains that delay is an atrocious idea that everyone should dismiss.

Any delay will in effect be negotiated between you, Parliament, and the courts — we will wash our hands of it, we won’t engage in further talks, we obviously won’t given any undertakings about cooperative behaviour, everything to do with ‘duty of sincere cooperation’ will be in the toilet, we will focus on winning the election on a manifesto of immediately revoking the entire EU legal order without further talks, and then we will leave.

Those who supported delay will face the inevitable consequences of being seen to interfere in domestic politics in a deeply unpopular way by colluding with a Parliament that is as popular as the clap.

Those who pushed the Benn Act intended to sabotage a deal and they’ve probably succeeded. So the main effect of it will probably be to help us win an election by uniting the leave vote and then a no deal Brexit. History is full of such ironies and tragedies.

Yesterday Boris urged the EU to get around the table and thrash out a last-minute deal.

But The Sun revealed that European capitals thought his offer was a sham and was "designed to be rejected".

They believe his insistence the dossier be kept secret is an effort to disguise the fact it is designed to set up a “blame game” with Brussels.

The Government has barred Michel Barnier’s team from sharing it with Member States to prevent leaks.

The Sun understands that as few as four Member States now want Britain to stay in the EU amid growing Brexit fatigue.

Memos leaked to The Guardian revealed the full extent of why Brussels disagrees with Boris' new plans.

They reported that Brussels think a customs border would majorly disrupt Ireland's economy, and they were unimpressed with proposals on how to get around VAT rules.

And the bloc's internal market would be open to abuse if there were no controls and checks at the border – should Northern Ireland reject aligning with EU rules.


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