A Brexit deal is 'overwhelmingly unlikely', Angela Merkel tells Boris Johnson

Sterling under pressure

Sterling under pressure

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused of playing a "stupid blame game" on Tuesday after Downing street sources appeared to blame German chancellor Angela Merkel for pushing the Brexit talks between Brussels and London to the brink of collapse.

With just 23 days to go before the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, the future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain and both London and Brussels are positioning themselves to avoid blame for a delay or a disorderly no-deal Brexit.

No. 10 sources claimed Mrs Merkel had told the Prime Minister that Britain could not leave the EU unless it was prepared to leave Northern Ireland behind in a permanent customs union.

He said it was unacceptable for Northern Ireland to stay in the customs union and that Johnson had told Merkel that the United Kingdom had made a significant offer and that it was time for the EU compromise. The official claimed that as a effect a deal looked "essentially impossible, not just now but ever".

In Berlin, a spokesman for the German government confirmed the two leaders had spoken but said he would not comment on the content of the call.

'At stake is the future of Europe and the United Kingdom as well as the security and interests of our people. But, under English law, he also is required to seek an extension if he doesn't have a deal by October 19 - something that may still force him to seek a delay and hold a general election before going back to Brussels again. European Union leaders also have been sharply critical of a proposal that would give Northern Ireland's legislature an effective veto on key elements of the Irish border arrangements in the future.

"Beyond the United Kingdom being able to veto a budget, an end date by then is important because we don't want the United Kingdom to be in and net recipients to be able to argue that there is no reason for a cut to the budget".

The UK and Irish leaders spoke on the phone for 40 minutes on Tuesday, after which No 10 said both sides "strongly reiterated" their desire to reach a deal.

On Wednesday, Barnier is to brief the European Commission and officials have said the talks must lead to a legal text by Friday if they are to be considered at the October 17-18 summit.

The Pound-to-Euro exchange rate is today quoted at 1.11138, but had been as low as 1.1109 during the course of the past 24 hours.

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The opposition Labour Party said Mr Johnson was trying to avoid taking responsibility for the failure of the negotiating process.

The UK government has put forward nothing credible to deal with border issues in Ireland.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank meanwhile warned that "even a relatively benign no-deal Brexit" would see Britain's debt burden surge to 50-year highs.

No 10 has insisted Mr Johnson will comply with the law, but Laura Kuenssberg says there are still conversations going on in Downing Street about writing a second letter, making the case that a delay is unnecessary.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he found it "hard to disagree" with Tusk, stressing that Dublin would "not strike a deal at any cost".

The source also said there were "all sorts of ways" they could scupper the Benn Act, which requires Mr Johnson to seek a fresh Brexit extension if he cannot get an agreement by October 19.

The next general election isn't due until 2022, and Johnson has tried to trigger one twice in September, but the opposition refused to support the motions, fearing that his victory would enable him to take Britain of the European Union without a deal.

European Union officials have privately acknowledged that the British government's strategy is to pin responsibility for a delay or no-deal Brexit onto them.

"I am clear that any threat on withdrawing security co-operation with Ireland is unacceptable", said Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.

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