EU, UK Officials Trade Barbs as Brexit Deadline Looms Closer With No Deal in Sight

EU, UK Officials Trade Barbs as Brexit Deadline Looms Closer With No Deal in Sight
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on Oct. 3, 2019 in London, England. (Peter Summers/Getty Images)

BRUSSELS—Brexit negotiations between the European Union and United Kingdom descended into acrimony Oct. 8 as both sides blamed each other for ruining any chance of reaching a deal later this month.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of trying to win “some stupid blame game” after Downing Street issued briefings against Brussels and Berlin.

Senior British officials accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of torpedoing the possibility of getting an agreement before Oct. 31 by insisting that Northern Ireland must remain in the EU’s customs union.

Giving an account of a morning phone call on Oct. 8 between the two leaders, a UK government source speaking on condition of anonymity said, “If this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible, not just now, but ever.”

A German government spokesman confirmed the conversation took place, but declined to provide details. A source close to the chancellor said she remains determined to work until the last minute to secure a Brexit deal.

The briefings from Downing Street prompted a furious response from European figures who said the British had deliberately tabled unworkable plans for solving the Irish border in order to blame the EU for the breakdown of talks.

Polish-born Tusk, who chairs the regular meetings of EU leaders in Brussels, reacted by launching an unusually personal attack on the UK’s prime minister.

Addressing Johnson, he wrote on Twitter: “At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people. You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis?”

Tusk was supported by Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney, who said his comments “reflect the frustration across the EU and the enormity of what’s at stake for us all.”

Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “Frankly, a deal on the basis of Johnson’s proposals has been unrealistic from the beginning and yet the EU has been willing to engage. Blaming others for the current situation is not fair play.”

Johnson was also criticized by some lawmakers on home turf with the opposition Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer calling the move “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,” he said.

Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, wrote on Twitter: “The UK government’s attempt to shift the blame for the Brexit fiasco to anyone but themselves - today it’s Merkel - is pathetically transparent.”

However, the prime minister was supported by eurosceptic politicians who accused Merkel and the EU of setting unacceptable terms that would effectively separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, wrote: “No British Government could ever accept Germany telling us that part of the UK has to stay in the EU. The choice now is clear: A clean break Brexit, or stay in a new militarised empire.”
Influential Conservative MP Steve Baker, who leads the European Research Group of anti-EU lawmakers, wrote: “We‘d like a deal. We’d like to end up in a relationship of the character the EU offered us last year. ... But the EU has been encouraged by our weak and incompetent Parliament to think Northern Ireland is the price. That’s wrong. Boris is right to defend our Union.”

As the row raged, technical talks between the EU and British negotiating teams continued in Brussels to try to iron out the details of an agreement officials on both sides said looked increasingly unlikely.

One EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the two sides’ positions by saying, “If you’re looking at a Venn diagram, there’s no overlapping between the EU and the UK.”

Asked for the latest on the talks, a European Commission spokeswoman said on Oct. 8, “The EU position has not changed—we are working for a deal.”

A UK government spokesman added: “These talks are reaching a critical point. The UK has moved a long way, and now we need to see movement from the EU side.”