Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The European Union accused Britain of playing a "stupid blame game" over Brexit on Tuesday after a Downing Street source said a deal was essentially impossible because German Chancellor Angela Merkel had made unacceptable demands.
With just 23 days before the United Kingdom is due to leave the bloc, the future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain as both London and Brussels position themselves to avoid blame for a delay or a disorderly no-deal Brexit.
In a sign that Johnson's last-ditch proposals to bridge the Brexit impasse have failed, a Downing Street source said Merkel and Johnson had a frank exchange on Tuesday morning and she had made clear that a deal was "overwhelmingly unlikely".
The Downing Street source said that if Merkel's position on Northern Ireland remaining in the EU's customs union was the bloc's position, then a deal was impossible. The biggest hurdle to a deal remains the post-Brexit border arrangements between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
"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. Johnson insists Northern Ireland must leave the EU's customs union with the rest of the UK. A spokesman for the German chancellor confirmed the call had taken place but declined to comment further.
However, Norbert Roettgen, a senior Merkel ally, said there was no new German position on Brexit. "Frankly a deal on the basis of Johnson's proposals by Oct. 31 has been unrealistic from the beginning...," he said on Twitter. Pressured by Brexit jitters, the pound fell 0.5% to $1.2226.
The EU was scathing about Johnson's stance. "Boris Johnson, what's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game," European Council President Tusk said on Twitter. "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?"
Such abrupt remarks indicate the Brexit blame game has begun in earnest, and that now both London and EU capitals are preparing for an acrimonious and potentially chaotic Brexit for which neither side wants to be held responsible. Adding to the gloom, European Parliament President David Sassoli said after meeting Johnson on Tuesday there had been no progress in the Brexit talks.
"If his ideas are limited to what he presented to the negotiator (Michel) Barnier five days ago, it means that he doesn't actually want an agreement," Sassoli, an Italian, told reporters, speaking through a translator in London.
However, a Downing Street spokesman reiterated that Johnson wanted to leave the EU with a deal and said the proposals he had made last week respected both the Good Friday peace agreement on the island of Ireland and the EU's single market. Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar reiterated their desire for a Brexit deal in a phone conversation on Tuesday evening and agreed to meet later this week, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
A disorderly Brexit could rip apart the United Kingdom, endanger peace in Northern Ireland, hurt global growth and shape the future of the European Union, which was built on the ruins of World War Two. An array of remarks by unidentified British sources laid bare just how far apart the two sides are after three years of tortuous haggling over the first departure of a sovereign state from the EU.
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