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Brexit deal 'overwhelmingly unlikely,' Merkel tells PM

Sky News logo Sky News 6 days ago Greg Heffer, political reporter

Angela Merkel wearing a suit and tie: Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel spoke on the phone this morning © Getty Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel spoke on the phone this morning German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Boris Johnson a Brexit deal is "overwhelmingly unlikely", according to Downing Street.

The prime minister spoke with Ms Merkel for 30 minutes this morning, with Mr Johnson stressing that Brexit negotiations in Brussels "are close to breaking down", Number 10 said.

The government last week unveiled its proposals for a renegotiated Brexit deal, with the prime minister hoping this can be agreed before the current 31 October deadline.

During the call, Mr Johnson was said to have told Ms Merkel the plans - which would ditch the controversial Irish border backstop arrangement - represented a "reasonable offer", but that it was not apparent to him "there was any desire for negotiation from the EU".

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The prime minister also expressed his view that some in the EU are hoping a second referendum will reverse Brexit, but told Ms Merkel this won't happen.

Reacting to Number 10's account of the discussion, European Council President Donald Tusk warned Mr Johnson that "what's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game".

Related: EU accuses Johnson of playing 'stupid blame game'

In a tweet directed at the prime minister, Mr Tusk said: "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?"

Number 10's characterisation of the call also prompted a new sell-off in sterling.

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The pound was trading more than half a cent lower against both the dollar and the euro - at $1.22 and €1.11 - as a recent rally, on market hopes of a Brexit deal, evaporated.

A Number 10 source said the call between Mr Johnson and Ms Merkel was a "very useful clarifying moment in all sorts of ways", with the result that "a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever".

The backstop is designed as an insurance mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, regardless of the future EU/UK trade relationship.

But Mr Johnson has branded the arrangement "undemocratic".

Related: Johnson allies aim to 'punish' EU states that back Brexit delay

Brexiteers fear it could leave the UK trapped in the EU's customs union - limiting the capacity for new independent trade deals - as well as following EU rules but with no influence over them.

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.

Leave vs Remain: Images of divided Brexit Britain [Photos]

"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.

"She said that Ireland is the government's special problem and Ireland must at least have a veto on Northern Ireland leaving.

What next for Brexit? Follow key developments, expert analysis and multiple perspectives as the UK edges closer to leaving the EU

"Merkel said that the prime minister should tell Northern Ireland that it must stay in full alignment forever, but that even this would not eliminate customs issues.

"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."

A spokesperson for the German government confirmed Ms Merkel spoke on the phone with Mr Johnson, but said they would not discuss a "confidential conversation".

Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer attacked "yet another cynical attempt by Number 10 to sabotage the negotiations".

He said: "Boris Johnson will never take responsibility for his own failure to put forward a credible deal. His strategy from day one has been for a no-deal Brexit."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon criticised "pathetically transparent" attempts by Number 10 to "shift the blame for the Brexit fiasco to anyone but themselves".

And a source within the group of 21 former Conservative MPs - who were expelled from the party for rebelling against Mr Johnson on Brexit last month - claimed Number 10's focus "is not on negotiations, it's on blame".

"They want to drag the country into a no-deal Brexit - blaming the EU for not engaging with their 'deal'," the source said.

"But in reality there is no 'deal'."

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But DUP leader Arlene Foster suggested Mr Johnson's Brexit proposals had "flushed out Dublin's real intentions to trap Northern Ireland in the EU customs union forever".

She said: "For the UK 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."

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage tweeted: "No British government could ever accept Germany telling us that part of the UK has to stay in the EU.

"The choice now is clear: A clean break Brexit, or stay in a new militarised empire. Time to choose freedom."

Mr Johnson's call with Ms Merkel follows a report in The Spectator magazine, in which a Number 10 official was quoted as warning EU countries that their support for a Brexit delay at a Brussels summit later this week "will be seen by this government as hostile interference in domestic politics".

The Downing Street official - widely speculated to be Mr Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings - also reportedly claimed that EU member states who oppose a further extension to the Article 50 period "will go the front of the queue for future cooperation", while those who support it will "go to the bottom of the queue".

"They think now that if there is another delay we will keep coming back with new proposals. This won't happen," the official told the magazine.

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

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Following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith tweeted: "I am clear that any threat on withdrawing security cooperation with Ireland is unacceptable.

"This is not in the interest of Northern Ireland or the Union."

Brexit: A timeline [Photos]

Former home secretary Amber Rudd, who quit Mr Johnson's government and the Conservatives last month, branded the comments "angry and desperate".

She posted on Twitter: "It shows that, far from having a coherent plan, No10 will simply beg the EU to say no to a delay.

"Our inability so far to strike a deal with the EU is the consequence of little genuine government effort going into getting one."

Mr Johnson has previously vowed to take the UK out of the EU "do or die".

But legislation passed by opposition MPs last month compels him to seek a delay to Brexit if he hasn't secured a Brexit deal - or MPs have explicitly approved a no-deal Brexit - by 19 October.

After the prime minister's phone call with Ms Merkel, the government released a new "readiness report" ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit.

The Guardian published what was purported to be a leaked point-by-point rejection of the UK's new Brexit offer by the EU on Monday evening.

But a UK source said: "Rather than writing documents in order to leak them, the EU's time would be better spent on engaging with our sensible and fair proposals, so the UK can leave with a deal when we exit the EU on 31 October."

Earlier on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron told Mr Johnson that the EU could make a decision by the end of the week on the latest Brexit proposals.

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