Boris Johnson effectively killed off hopes of a Brexit deal today after turning down a demand from Angela Merkel from Northern Ireland to stay in the customs union.
In a crunch moment for negotiations, the PM and the German Chancellor clashed brutally in an early morning phone call.
No10 sources said Mrs Merkel told the premier that the province must remain within the EU’s customs union.
But Mr Johnson retorted that meant a deal was ‘essentially impossible, not just now but ever’.
A Downing Street source said the call – which effectively reads the last rites on hopes for an agreement before next week’s EU summit – was a ‘clarifying moment’.
Mr Johnson met his Cabinet for crisis talks after the conversation this morning.
Downing Street sources had already painted a grim picture of the consequences of rejecting the UK’s ‘fair and reasonable’ blueprint.
One explosively claimed the government will make clear that any EU country supporting a delay to the October 31 Brexit deadline would be engaging in ‘hostile interference’ in British politics.
Any hope of cooperation will be ‘in the toilet’ and the Tories will end all negotiations to fight an election, switching to a policy of leaving the EU immediately with No Deal.
The Tories will win because Parliament and Remainer MPs are ‘as popular as the Clap’.
‘They think now that if there is another delay we will keep coming back with new proposals,’ the source told the Spectator. ‘This won’t happen. We’ll either leave with No Deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with No Deal.’
The brutal assault – which former Cabinet minister Amber Rudd claimed came from maverick No10 aide Dominic Cummings – emerged after Mr Johnson’s proposals hit a huge roadblock.
EU politicians have branded them a ‘joke’ and Emmanuel Macron set a deadline of Friday for the UK to make more concessions.
Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liz Truss were among the ministers gathering in Downing Street today
Boris Johnson (pictured visiting a hospital in Watford yesterday) is holding a crisis meeting as aides admit the Brexit talks are set to break down dramatically this week
Former Cabinet minister Amber Rudd claimed maverick No10 aide Dominic Cummings (pictured in Downing Street last week) was behind the explosive briefing
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom and housing minister Esther McVey were at the Cabinet meeting in No10 today
While technical talks between officials continued yesterday, EU leaders have so far refused to hold face-to-face talks with Mr Johnson on his plan for replacing the controversial Irish backstop.
The PM said Brussels had been presented with ‘a big step forward, big advance, big compromise by the UK Government’, but complained the EU was not engaging with the details.
He added: ‘What we’re saying to our friends is, this is a very generous, fair and reasonable offer we’ve made. What we’d like to hear from you now is what your thoughts are. And if you have issues with any of the proposals that we’ve come up with, then let’s get into the detail and discuss them. It’s time for us to get together and really thrash this thing out.’
Voters ‘are more likely to blame Remainer MPs than Boris Johnson if Brexit is delayed’
Voters are more likely to blame Remain-backing MPs and Parliament than Boris Johnson if Brexit is delayed, according to a new poll.
A survey conducted by ComRes shows that if the UK’s departure date is pushed back beyond October 31 then the PM will be at least partially blamed for the extension by just over half of voters.
But crucially for the PM the numbers show that voters will blame other groups far more than they will the premier if he is unable to stick to his ‘do or die’ Brexit pledge.
The statistics represent a boost for Mr Johnson and Downing Street because they come as the chances of a Brexit deal appear to be shrinking while the possibility of an extension past Halloween increases.
Number 10 is adamant that the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal but the government has also conceded that it will have to comply with the so-called Benn Act.
That anti-No Deal law states that the PM must ask the EU for a delay if the two sides have not struck an accord in the run up to the October 31 deadline.
However, Downing Street has made clear that while it will ask for a delay in such circumstances it will also make plain to the EU that it does not want an extension.
Should a delay be agreed, the ComRes poll for The Telegraph suggests Mr Johnson would have to shoulder some of the blame.
But he is likely to be heartened by the fact other groups would be blamed more than he would.
However, EU officials responded last night by leaking to The Guardian a rejection of the UK’s offer.
The ‘confidential’ report said the Prime Minister’s plan to take Northern Ireland out of the customs union would cause ‘major disruption to the all-Ireland economy’.
And it said Brussels did not accept that the people of Northern Ireland should be asked to consent to the idea of the province remaining aligned to EU rules after Brexit.
The report is said to have been delivered last Friday to Mr Johnson’s chief EU adviser David Frost.
A UK official responded: ‘Rather than writing documents in order to leak them, the EU’s time would be better spent on engaging with our sensible and fair proposals, so the UK can leave with a deal when we exit the EU on October 31.’
The senior No10 source told The Spectator Irish PM Leo Varadkar had reneged on promises to make concessions alongside the UK.
Mr Varadkar ‘said if we moved on manufactured goods then he would also move but instead he just attacked us publicly’.
The source said they would make it clear in public and in private that the interference is not welcome, and any attempt to delay is pointless as Britain will leave regardless on 31 October.
They suggested the government has still not given up on trying to get round the Benn Act, but insisted: ‘We will make clear privately and publicly that countries which oppose delay will go to the front of the queue for future cooperation…
‘Supporting the delay will be seen by this government as hostile interference in domestic politics, and over half of the public will agree with us.’
Defence and security cooperation could be affected if the European Union attempted to keep Britain in against its wishes.
The source added: ‘Those who supported delay will face the inevitable consequences of being seen to interfere in domestic politics in a deeply unpopular way.’
Spelling out that the Tories will need to harden up their Brexit stance even further to outflank Nigel Farage – who has been demanding a clean break – the source said: ‘To marginalise the Brexit Party, we will have to fight the election on the basis of ‘No more delays, get Brexit done immediately”.’
In a vicious swipe at Remainer MPs, they added: ‘Those who pushed the Benn Act intended to sabotage a deal and they’ve probably succeeded.
‘So the main effect of it will probably be to help us win an election by uniting the leave vote and then a no-deal Brexit. History is full of such ironies and tragedies.’
Irish PM Leo Varadkar and EU negotiator Michel Barnier have given short shrift to the UK’s Brexit blueprint
A survey conducted by ComRes showed 83 per cent of voters would blame Parliament if Brexit is delayed beyond October 31
Asked if the source quote came from Mr Cummings, Ms Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think Dominic Cummings, yes, because otherwise it would have been heavily denied and heads would have rolled.
What is Boris Johnson’s five-point plan to scrap the Irish backstop?
Northern Ireland would leave the Customs’ Union with the rest of the UK but stay in the single market.
This would constitute an ‘all island regulatory zone’ that covers trade of all goods. It would mean no checks between the two nations, because Northern Ireland would still have to follow EU rules.
Goods from Britain to Northern Ireland would effectively be managed by a border in the Irish Sea, with checks only in that direction, not the reverse.
The ‘all island regulatory zone’ will have to be approved by the people of Northern Ireland. This means the Northern Ireland Assembly has the right to veto the zone and could hold a referendum on the matter.
Customs checks would have to be put in place on trade between Northern and the Republic of Ireland. Most checks would be made using technology, but some would still have to be physical.
Cash for Northern Ireland
A promise of a ‘new deal for Northern Ireland’ means ministers putting money aside for Belfast and Dublin to help aide economic development and ensure new measures work.
Keeping to the Good Friday agreement
Freedom of movement between two countries will remain. New deal would confirm commitment to collobaration between UK and Ireland.
‘So clearly it’s come from them, it’s in their style.
‘It reveals that there doesn’t appear to be an actual plan at all. Instead, what they’re doing is angrily, apparently, begging the EU not to support a delay which will be required because of the position that Parliament has taken.’
With both sides anxious to avoid the blame for a breakdown in talks, Government sources said officials were drawing up their own report setting out concessions Mr Johnson had made after the EU’s previous demands.
These include asking Northern Ireland to remain in the single market for goods after Brexit to reduce the need for border checks.
No10 sources last night confirmed Mr Johnson might even boycott next week’s summit unless EU leaders agree to discuss his plans.
And EU diplomats suggested leaders could use the summit to instead discuss another Brexit extension, despite the fact Mr Johnson has ruled out asking for one.
Downing Street yesterday insisted it had not abandoned hopes of a last-minute breakthrough, with Mr Johnson speaking by phone with the leaders of Sweden, Denmark and Poland.
The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We are ready to have discussions at pace, but for that to happen the EU needs to engage.’ But Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok yesterday said the UK needed to provide ‘more realism and reality’.
But one EU official said the most that could be offered with the time left would be reverting to a tweaked ‘off-the-shelf’ model, such as the Northern Ireland-only backstop.
This is a red line for Mr Johnson as it would involve Northern Ireland remaining in the customs union.