Brexit talks in Brussels between EU and the UK come to a halt
Brexit talks have come to an abrupt halt in Brussels days after the British government demanded intensive negotiations on Boris Johnson’s proposals.
Sources on both sides confirmed that no meetings between the negotiating teams were scheduled. There are 22 days to go before the UK is due to leave the EU.
Discussions between EU and UK officials had been held almost daily since the prime minister and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, met for lunch in Luxembourg in mid-September.
The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, had earlier this week called for the talks to intensify to try to secure a deal for leaders to sign off at an EU summit on 17 October.
But after a tumultuous Tuesday, during which unnamed Downing Street sources accused the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, of wielding a veto on the UK leaving the EU’s custom’s union, the talks appear to have hit a wall.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Juncker will address the European parliament later on Wednesday to report on the state of play.
Meanwhile, the Times reported on Wednesday that the EU could throw Johnson a last-minute, time-limited Northern Ireland-only backstop. Senior EU officials said such a proposal was not being discussed.
A 700-word text message to a journalist at the Spectator from an unnamed Downing Street source on Monday, widely attributed to Johnson’s chief aide, Dominic Cummings, had predicted such an offer, and warned it would be rejected.
Much of the focus is now on Johnson’s expected meeting with the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, on Thursday, with Barclay expected to meet Barnier for a working lunch in Brussels on the same day.
Both sides are keen to avoid blame for what Johnson himself has warned would be a “failure of statecraft”.
On Tuesday, Varadkar had told the Irish broadcaster RTE that he believed it would be “very difficult to secure an agreement by next week”.
“Essentially what the United Kingdom has done is repudiate the deal that we negotiated in good faith with prime minister [Theresa] May’s government over two years and have sort of put half of that now back on the table and are saying, ‘That’s a concession’. And, of course, it isn’t really.”
Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, insisted in an interview with the BBC that there was still hope of a deal. He said: “We’re reaching a critical point – if there’s ever a time for jaw-jaw rather than war-war, this is it.”
Ministers are preparing to summon MPs for a special Saturday sitting of parliament after next week’s crucial EU summit.
MPs are expected to be called back to Westminster on Saturday 19 October regardless of whether Johnson has been able to secure agreement on a Brexit deal.