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Agencies
October 9, 2019

Britain’s Brexit talks with EU on verge of collapse

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A
Agencies
October 9, 2019

LONDON: Brexit talks between Britain and the European Union teetered on the verge of collapse on Tuesday, with tit-for-tat claims of intransigence and sabotage before an end-October deadline.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as he tried to salvage new divorce terms he has proposed ahead of next week’s pivotal EU summit in Brussels.Unusually, Downing Street then provided a readout of what Merkel allegedly said, provoking an incendiary tweet from EU Council President Donald Tusk.

According to London, Merkel demanded a rewrite of Britain’s approach to the long-vexing Irish border problem that made a compromise “essentially impossible”.The Downing Street official quoted Merkel as saying that a deal now looked “overwhelming unlikely”, and added that the Brexit talks were “close to breaking down”.

In Berlin, Merkel’s office said it would not comment “on such confidential discussions”. Johnson’s official spokesman also declined to say anything about the substance of the call. But he told reporters the pair had a “frank exchange”—diplomatic speak for a disagreement.

The further spokesman rejected Tusk’s blunt accusation that Johnson was playing “some stupid blame game” by having his office leak the detail of private talks.A frustrated Tusk accused Britain of playing with “the future of Europe and the UK” with no clear plan of what the country wanted. Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said he found it “hard to disagree” with Tusk, stressing that Dublin would “not strike a deal at any cost”.

Johnson talked to his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar for 40 minutes. “Both sides strongly reiterated their desire to reach a Brexit deal,” a Downing Street spokesman said. The pair could meet in person later this week, he added. Although Johnson’s Brexit negotiators were still meeting various European officials, much of the focus is shifting to what happens after the talks are formally pronounced dead.

The Irish government published a 2020 spending plan with a 1.2-billion-euro ($1.3 billion) relief fund based on the assumption that there will be no agreement. The UK government also released updated preparations for a “no deal” exit at the end of the month, indicating it was increasingly expecting the outcome.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank, however, warned that “even a relatively benign no-deal Brexit” would see Britain´s debt burden surge to 50-year highs. On the markets, the pound slipped to its lowest value against the euro in about a month.

Johnson, who took over from Theresa May in July, has been accused of political manoeuvring before calling a snap general election to strengthen his position in parliament. On Tuesday, the government suspended the legislature from Wednesday until October 14, when the Queen will set out the government’s legislative domestic agenda.

Downing Street officials say Brussels is making a big mistake because failure in the coming days to reach a deal would result in Britain’s position only hardening down the line. One source in Johnson’s office told The Spectator magazine the government will try to “do all sorts of things” to prevent another Brexit delay should negotiations really collapse.

Scotland’s top civil court is due to rule Wednesday whether someone else—possibly a judge—could sign an extension request if Johnson fails to follow parliament’s order to ask for one if there is still no deal by October 19.But should a delay still be granted at the EU summit, Johnson will campaign for a “no-deal” in any snap election, the Downing Street source told The Spectator.

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