No deal gets real
●Downing Street briefs agreement is ‘essentially impossible’ after Merkel call with Johnson ● Scottish Government reveals plans for huge lorry park at Stranraer to cope with disruption ● Tony Blair warns Labour not to gamble with the union to win power
Brexit talks are on the brink of collapse after Downing Street briefed that a deal is “essentially impossible, not just now but ever”, prompting senior EU figures to accuse Boris Johnson of playing a “stupid blame game”.
Three weeks until Brexit day and a week before a crucial Brussels summit to sign off any new deal, relations between the UK and the EU hit a new low with a series of hostile anonymous briefings from Number 10.
Last night, emerging from 45 minutes of talks with the Prime Minister, the president of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, said that without an unlikely breakthrough, there were “only two options: an extension or no deal”.
The bitter war of words came as the UK government claimed the country was now ready for a no-deal Brexit at the same time as the Scottish Government set out plans for a huge new lorry park at Stranraer to prepare for bottlenecks in trade across the Irish Sea.
And former prime minister Tony Blair underlined the risk to the Union
from a no-deal Brexit, saying it would provide a “whole additional dimension to the argument for independence” and warning Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn that it would be a “major category error” to grant permission for a second referendum on Scotland’s future in exchange for SNP support.
Parliament was prorogued last night to allow a Queen’s Speech to take place on Monday, with a vote on the government’s programme likely to be defeated within a fortnight, adding to pressure for a snap election.
Following a phone conversation between Mr Johnson and Angela Merkel yesterday morning, a source was quoted claiming that the Chancellor told the Prime Minister that “the UK cannot leave [the EU] without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union and in full alignment forever”.
Briefing journalists on the 30 minute call, a Downing Street source was quoted as saying: “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.”
They added: “Merkel said that the PM 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.”
The comments provoked anger from opposition parties and in Brussels, where the EU Council President Donald Tusk responded by tweeting: “Boris Johnson, 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.”
Using the Latin phrase for “where are you going”, He added: “You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis?”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the two leaders had a “frank exchange”, and confirmed that Mr Johnson had ruled out Northern Ireland remaining under the EU customs regime, but did not comment on Ms Merkel’s remarks.
In Berlin, a German government spokesperson said: “We do not report such confidential conversations.”
On Monday night, in a lengthy comment to the Spectator magazine on the government’s strategy, a Downing Street source struck an even harsher tone, suggesting EU members that permit any delay to Brexit would be punished – including through the possible withdrawal of security co-operation.
“We will make clear privately and publicly that countries which oppose delay will go the front of the queue for future co-operation – co-operation on things both within and outside EU competences,” the source said. “Those who supportdelaywillgotothebottom of the queue.”
According to the Spectator, the 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”.
It was widely speculated that both comments originated with Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s senior adviser and architect of the government’s aggressive approach.
The threat brought a protest from Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, who tweeted: “Any threat on withdrawing security co-operation with Ireland is unacceptable. This is not in the interest of [Northern Ireland] or the Union.”
Yesterday Mr Johnson spoke to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar by phone for 40 minutes, with a Downing Street spokesperson saying both leaders “reiterated their desire to reach a Brexit deal”.
In what could be the last chance to salvage an agreement, the pair meet for face to face talks tomorrow or Friday.
EU leaders have given the UK little hope that a new set of proposals for the Irish border that amount to creating two trade frontiers for Northern Ireland – a customs border with the Republic, and a regulatory border with the rest of the UK – will be accepted ahead of the last-chance summit in Brussels on 17 October.
The Irish government has said the plans are not the basis for a deal, and reports on Monday night suggested EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had briefed representatives of the 27 member states on a series of problems with the UK offer.
Opposition parties accused the government of trying to deliberately collapse Brexit talks. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “The UK government’s attempts to shift the blame for the Brexit fiasco to anyone but themselves – today it’s Merkel – is pathetically transparent.”
And Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer tweeted: “This is yet another cynical attempt by Number 10 to sabotage the negotiations.
“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.
“It is now more important than ever that Parliament unites to prevent this reckless government crashing us out of the EU.”
Court of Session urged to prepare letter to the EU asking for Article 50 extension
Campaigners called upon the Court of Session yesterday to use an extraordinary legal power to prepare a letter requesting a Brexit extension in case Boris Johnson tries to circumvent the terms of the Benn Act.
Lawyers representing SNP justice spokeswoman Joanna Cherry, Jo Maugham QC and businessman Dale Vince, argued the Prime Minister could not be trusted to stick to the terms of legislation passed by opposition MPS last month.
The trio want Scotland’s highest civil court to use its power of nobile officium to send a letter requesting an extension if no deal has been reached with the EU by 19 October.
The rarely-used power allows judges to take action to ensure a legal requirement
is upheld if the official responsible fails to do so.
Aidan O’neill QC, for the petitioners, said Mr Johnson and his political allies had repeatedly indicated they would try to get around the terms of the Benn Act to ensure the UK left the EU by a deadline of 31 October.
He said: “This is politics being used to subvert the rule of law. Saying one thing in court and another in public.”
He continued: “One should not be taken in by any of kind schtick that the Prime Minister is simply an overgrown schoolboy playing at being prime minister, as if he was Just William leading his cabinet band of outlaws.
“This is serious stuff. This is calculated. This is deliberately focus-grouped, workshopped and wargamed to appeal to their base.”
But Andrew Webster QC, for the UK government, said assurances already given to the court carried “significant weight”.
It was revealed in court papers made public last week that Mr Johnson accepted the terms of the Benn Act. Mr Webster added that “no weight” should be given to unattributed statements made to several newspapers in recent days about the Prime Minister’s intentions.
Mr O’neill told the court that sending a letter on behalf of the Prime Minister was unprecedented, “but these are unprecedented times”.
Lord Carloway, sitting with Lord Drummond Young and Lord Brodie in the Inner House of the court, said a decision on the nobile officium would be made at 11am today. One option open to the court is to continue the case until after the 19 October deadline to ensure the Benn Act is observed.
The judges will also rule at the same time on an appeal lodged against Lord Pentland’s ruling on Monday, which dismissed a petition aimed at forcing the Prime Minister to request a Brexit extension if no deal is secured with the EU by 19 October. Lord Pentland ruled it was not necessary to compel Mr Johnson to comply with the terms of the so-called Benn Act given the “unequivocal assurances” of the government.
Mr Maugham said: “The court is understandably concerned to avoid a clash between the executive and the rule of law.
0 Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson have rarely seen eye to eye...No 10’s decision to blame the German Chancellor for the apparent failure of Brexit talks will not make the relationship any easier