Brexit news latest: Talks on verge of collapse as Angela Merkel tells Boris Johnson that breakthrough deal is 'overwhelmingly unlikely'

JOE MURPHY, NIcholas Cecil
Boris Johnson pictured with Angela Merkel in August: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Brexit talks appeared close to collapse today after No 10 said Angela Merkel told Boris Johnson a breakthrough looked “overwhelmingly unlikely” unless he changed his stance.

He accused the EU of making a deal “essentially impossible”.

In a showdown telephone conversation this morning, the Prime Minister blamed European Union leaders for failing to “engage” with his 11th-hour proposals set out a week ago and because they were insisting that Northern Ireland should stay in the Customs Union.

A senior Downing Street source told the Evening Standard that the impasse could be fatal to the talks. “Obviously the UK Government cannot negotiate on the basis that the EU has a veto on whether Northern Ireland can ever leave.”

In an exclusive interview with the Standard, the Prime Minister said Britain is “pedal to the metal” on no-deal Brexit preparations.

Boris Johnson pictured with Angela Merkel in August (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He said: “We’re very confident we will be ready. We really put the pedal to the metal ... But I want to stress it is not an outcome that we seek, nor is it an outcome we think is necessary.

“What we want is to see our friends and partners coming together to address our suggestions and find a way forward together.”

Mr Johnson stressed that he was open to compromises and appealed to leaders to have a “serious discussion” — and even hinted he could amend the so-called “DUP veto” .

But Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer claimed: “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.”

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There was consternation among ministers over an explosive memo written by one of the Prime Minister’s staff — allegedly controversial senior adviser Dominic Cummings — that predicted negotiations “will probably end this week”.

It spoke of punishing EU countries that backed Parliament’s call for a Brexit delay rather than no deal by sending them “to the bottom of the queue” and warned: “If this deal dies in the next few days, then it won’t be revived.”

The notes, sent to The Spectator journalist James Forsyth, who protected the author’s identity, were said to make clear that UK defence and security co-operation would be affected if Brexit was not delivered.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps distanced himself from the apparent threats of punishment, telling the BBC’s Today programme: “No, I don’t think that’s the case at all. If you can name the source I’ll certainly engage with it.”

EU leaders have said in recent days that they do not believe Mr Johnson’s offer, set out in his Manchester party conference speech, was the basis for a withdrawal agreement.

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