Diplomats from the EU’s 27 other member states were briefed for two hours yesterday as the ‘reality is sinking in’ that both sides have run out of common ground
The EU believes No Deal is Boris Johnson’s main aim and he has ‘no intention’ of negotiating a new deal, sources claimed last night.
Diplomats from the EU’s 27 other member states were briefed for two hours yesterday by European Commission official Stephanie Riso, a senior member of chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s team.
They were told to ramp up No Deal preparations as the ‘reality is sinking in’ that both sides have run out of common ground.
The diplomats concluded that Mr Johnson’s Government had ‘no intention’ of negotiating in good faith and that his ‘central scenario’ is No Deal.
Miss Riso, who played a key role in drawing up the controversial Irish border backstop, is said to have talked about a column by Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay published at the weekend in The Mail on Sunday.
In it he argued that Mr Barnier should seek a new negotiating mandate from EU leaders so the backstop can be abolished from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement.
However, she is said to have told the meeting it would be ‘impossible’ to do this and complete a renegotiation in time for the UK and EU parliaments to approve before the October 31 deadline.
My £1.8bn NHS boost is new money, insists BoJo
Labour’s claim that voters have been misled by Boris Johnson over his £1.8billion NHS cash injection were dismissed last night.
Jon Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, had said ministers were simply releasing funds that had previously been blocked, but the Prime Minister insisted it represented genuine ‘new money’ for hospitals.
No 10 said £850million was going to upgrade 20 hospitals, while £1billion was to be used for urgent infrastructure projects.
Speaking during a visit to the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire – one of those set to benefit from the funds – Mr Johnson said: ‘It’s part of a national programme the NHS asked for, and I want to stress this is new money.
‘I said ten days ago on the steps of Downing Street we will be upgrading 20 hospitals around the country, and this is it. We are starting here in Boston with £20million going into the A&E.’
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – the body which negotiates on behalf of NHS trusts with the Government – said: ‘Frontline NHS providers will be able to spend £1billion in 2019/20 on backlog maintenance and other capital spending they weren’t able to spend last week. By our definition that is genuine, new, extra money.’
Such a change to Mr Barnier’s mandate would require all EU27 leaders to agree, but the next summit is not until October 17 – two weeks before the UK is due to leave.
One source said: ‘It’s technically almost impossible to do in the time, that’s why Barclay’s article felt like a “blame game” before a No Deal.
‘If that is the final position, then the only alternative is a No Deal.’
Another senior source said: ‘Reality is sinking in. Johnson has been so public and categorical, it is hard to see how his Government goes back on it.’
Some diplomats spoke of their fears that the Withdrawal Agreement would still not pass a Commons vote even with the backstop removed.
Miss Riso also briefed the EU diplomats on a meeting she had last week with David Frost, Mr Johnson’s most senior EU adviser and Brexit negotiator. ‘It was a very short meeting. The main message was: drop the backstop, otherwise we won’t negotiate,’ a source said.
Another added: ‘That message has now gone loud and clear to capitals. It was useful to hear it from the horse’s mouth.’
They also claimed Mr Frost admitted that the alternative arrangements to replace the backstop, including technological solutions, do not yet exist.
Sounding a similarly downbeat tone on the state of negotiations yesterday, an EU Commission spokesman said: ‘For a negotiation to be successful, it takes two to tango. If the music and the rhythm is not right, well then you have no dance.’
A Government spokesman said last night: ‘We are ready to negotiate in good faith an alternative to the anti-democratic backstop.
Diplomats were briefed by European Commission official Stephanie Riso (right, with Michel Barnier and deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand), a senior member of chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s team
‘There is abundant scope to find the technological solutions necessary – and these solutions can and will be found, in the context of the free trade agreement that we will negotiate with the EU after October 31.
‘The PM wants to meet EU leaders and negotiate a new deal – one that abolishes the backstop. We will throw ourselves into the negotiations with the greatest energy and the spirit of friendship. We hope the EU will rethink its current refusal to make any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.’
It is thought Mr Johnson will not meet EU leaders for the first time until the G7 summit in France later this month.