By Emmanuel Yashim
The British government has reportedly accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of telling Prime Minister Boris Johnson by phone on Tuesday that she sees a Brexit deal as “overwhelmingly unlikely” unless London accepts new conditions.
A Downing Street source said that Merkel had “made clear a deal is overwhelmingly unlikely and she thinks the EU has a veto on (Britain) leaving the customs union,” Sky News and the BBC reported.
A Downing Street spokesperson confirmed that it had given a readout of the phone call but would not immediately share it.
In Berlin, the German government confirmed that the call took place but declined to give details of the “confidential conversation”.
The broadcasters quoted Downing Street as saying Merkel’s comments make a deal “essentially impossible”.
Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour party’s Brexit spokesman, accused Johnson’s Conservative government of trying to “sabotage the (Brexit) negotiations” through its remarks on the phone call.
In Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted to Johnson that “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,” Tusk wrote.
“You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis?, he added, using the Latin for “Where are you going?”
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva stressed that the Brussels is still “working for a deal” and technical talks are continuing.
Pro-EU Labour lawmaker Hillary Benn, who instigated new legislation designed to prevent Johnson taking Britain out of the EU without a deal on Oct. 31, told the BBC that the Downing Street statement was “about blaming Angela Merkel for something that is from Boris Johnson.”
“This is yet another cynical attempt by [Downing Street] to sabotage the negotiations,” Starmer tweeted.
“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 added.
But Steve Baker, an influential pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, responded to Tusk by defending Johnson.
“We’d like a deal. We’d like to end up in a relationship of the character the EU offered us last year.
“For the whole UK,” Baker tweeted, referring to key sticking points on how to handle the post-Brexit Irish border.
He added that 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,” Baker said.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said it was “hard to disagree” with Tusk.
Tusk’s statement “reflects the frustration across EU and the enormity of what’s at stake for us all,” Coveney tweeted.
Merkel met with European Parliament President David Sassoli in Berlin on Tuesday to discuss Brexit.
They did not comment on the Brexit showdown before their closed-door meeting.
Merkel was also due to meet Tusk later Tuesday, while Johnson was scheduled to meet Sassoli in London.
Johnson has insisted that Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without an exit deal.