Boris Johnson told German Chancellor Angela Merkel a Brexit deal is essentially impossible if the EU demands Northern Ireland should stay in the bloc’s customs union.
The call between the leaders, at 8 a.m. Tuesday, came after a text message from one of the prime minister’s officials, reported by the Spectator magazine, said his government is preparing for talks to collapse.
Ministers will publish updated no-deal Brexit planning documents later on Tuesday as negotiations between the U.K. and EU continue in Brussels.
Boris Johnson held what seems to have been a very difficult phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday morning.
According to a British official, Merkel told the premier Northern Ireland must remain part of the EU’s customs union if he wants to secure a divorce agreement with the bloc. Johnson told the German chancellor that this demand, along with the EU’s unwillingness to engage with his new proposals, makes a deal essentially impossible.
With little progress made in recent days, U.K. officials now believe Brexit talks are close to collapse. The BBC, which first reported details of the conversation, said Johnson’s office regarded the call as a clarifying moment.
DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds said it looks unlikely a deal to break the impasse over Brexit will be reached this week, as the U.K. and EU remain divided over a plan which would effectively offer his party a veto over measures to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
In an interview with Bloomberg TV, he said he doesn’t see Boris Johnson watering down the consent principle and accused Dublin of wanting to have “its cake and eat it” on the issue.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar appears to be “desperate” to avoid the blame for a no-deal Brexit, Dodds said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps denied the U.K. Government is drawing up plans to punish EU member states that agree to a delay to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline. The threat was in a text message from one of Boris Johnson’s advisers published by the Spectator magazine.
The note, attributed to a “contact in Number 10”, said that any EU member state that agrees to delay Brexit would go to the back of the line for cooperation on defense and security.
“I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Shapps told BBC Radio. He said it isn’t clear who wrote the text and insisted the government is in serious talks with the EU to get a deal.
Amber Rudd, who quit Boris Johnson’s cabinet last month in protest at his Brexit policy, said she now accepts the case for a confirmatory vote on any deal agreed with the EU.
“We need to look much more carefully about how to find a compromise,” she told BBC Radio, accusing Johnson of giving up on reaching agreement with the bloc.
“I still believe that we could find a deal that gets through the House of Commons,” she said. “But we need to make sure that the Number 10 machine works with MPs, stops expelling MPs — perhaps from its own party, works cross-party with Labour, and yes, may indeed have to have a confirmatory referendum on a deal at some stage to get it through.”
The U.K. revamped the tariffs it will levy after a no-deal Brexit following warnings from industry that its earlier plans risked making domestic producers uncompetitive.
Import duties for heavy goods vehicles will be reduced to 10%, in a boost to the road haulage industry, while levies for bio-ethanol will be raised and new tariffs for clothing introduced, the Department for International Trade said on Tuesday.