Brexit talks have come to an abrupt halt in Brussels days after the British government demanded intensive negotiations on Boris Johnson’s proposals.
Sources on both sides confirmed no meetings were scheduled between the negotiating teams. There are 22 days remaining before the UK is due to leave the EU.
Discussions between EU and UK officials had been held almost daily since the prime minister and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, met for lunch in Luxembourg in mid-September.
The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, had earlier this week called for the talks to intensify to try to secure a deal for leaders to sign off at an EU summit on 17 October.
But after a tumultuous Tuesday, during which unnamed Downing Street sources accused the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, of wielding a veto on the UK leaving the customs union, the discussions appeared to have hit a wall.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and Juncker will address the European parliament later on Wednesday to report on the state of play.
Barnier told reporters: “The EU will remain calm, vigilant, respectful and constructive. I think the deal is possible and very difficult, but possible.”
Much of the focus is now on Johnson’s expected meeting with the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, on Thursday, with Barclay expected to meet Barnier for a working lunch in Brussels on the same day.
Both sides are keen to avoid blame for what Johnson has warned would be a “failure of statecraft” if they failed to reach an agreement.
On Tuesday, Varadkar told the Irish broadcaster RTÉ he believed it would be “very difficult to secure an agreement by next week”.
The taoiseach added: “Essentially, what the United Kingdom has done is repudiate the deal that we negotiated in good faith with prime minister [Theresa] May’s government over two years, and have sort of put half of that now back on the table and are saying, ‘That’s a concession’. And, of course, it isn’t really.”
Kit Malthouse, the UK policing minister, insisted in an interview with the BBC that there was still hope of a deal. “We’re reaching a critical point – if there’s ever a time for jaw-jaw rather than war-war, this is it,” he said.
Ministers are preparing to summon MPs for a special Saturday sitting of parliament after the EU summit next week, regardless of whether Johnson has been able to secure agreement on a Brexit deal.
EU diplomats for the 27 other member states were briefed by the European commission on Wednesday morning that there had not been any change in the UK position to offer hope of a deal being struck.
According to EU sources, the French representative in the meeting warned “there can be no assumptions” about a free-trade deal with the UK after Brexit, given the British demands to remove all level playing field conditions, such as non-regression on environmental standards, from the withdrawal agreement.
In a forceful intervention, France made the point that free-trade agreements were always decided on a case-by-case basis with the final result not automatically certain.
Johnson’s government has promised a “best-in-class” deal with the EU and wants to end the UK’s close alignment with the bloc on standards regarding health, environment and workers’ rights.
In its report to member states, a commission official said the UK wanted “a basic free-trade deal” and negotiators now understood British intentions more clearly.
A political declaration on the future relationship is an essential part of any Brexit deal, but technical talks between David Frost, the prime minister’s chief negotiator, and Brussels have focused much less on this text.
Brexit talks in Brussels between EU and UK come to a halt – The Guardian