The British government said Tuesday that the chances of a Brexit deal with the European Union were fading fast, as the two sides remained unwilling to shift from their entrenched positions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office gave a gloomy assessment after a call between Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday morning.
In a statement to British media, Downing St. said Merkel had told the prime minister that “a deal is overwhelmingly unlikely” unless Northern Ireland remains in a customs union with the EU — something the U.K. says it can’t allow.
Downing St. said that “if this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever.”
The German government had no immediate comment.
EU leaders have demanded more “realism” from Britain in response to a Brexit plan proposed by Johnson. The bloc says the proposals don’t fulfil the U.K.’s commitment to a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Johnson, meanwhile, has urged the bloc to compromise.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said the EU will assess by Friday whether a deal is possible.
Johnson insists the U.K. will leave the EU on Oct. 31 even without a deal. Many economists say that will disrupt British trade and plunge the country into recession.
The British government says it is taking steps to minimize the pain. It is due to publish more details of its plans for a no-deal Brexit later Tuesday.
Many in the EU — and in Britain — are skeptical that Britain will leave the bloc on Oct. 31, because the U.K. Parliament has passed a law compelling the government to ask the EU for a delay to Brexit if no deal is agreed upon by Oct. 19.
Johnson says he will obey the law, but will not ask for a delay. It’s not clear how those two statements can bd reconciled — but it’s clear Johnson wants to pin the blame for any delay on Parliament and the EU, so that he can campaign as a champion of Brexit in a U.K. election that’s likely to be called soon.
Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party, said the Downing St. statement was “yet another cynical attempt by No. 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,” he said.
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.
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