Boris Johnson snubbed by Merkel and Macron after requesting phone call

Boris Johnson has been snubbed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron after he requested a phone call with them to try and unblock Brexit talks.

A senior EU official said the request for a three-way call on Monday was rejected because all negotiations should go via the European Commission rather than individual leaders.

The claim, which is not being denied by the UK side, comes as Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told leaders at a summit in Brussels that a no-deal was now more likely than not.

Mr Johnson on Friday morning also warned that it was “very, very likely” that the UK would leave the single market without a trade agreement on 31 December.

The prime minister had said on Thursday he would go to Paris and Berlin as well as Brussels “to try and get this home and get a deal”.

But his attempt to bypass the Commission and speak directly to the French and German leaders has been met with an unimpressed reaction across the bloc.

Speaking on Friday in Brussels, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, a sometime ally of the UK on EU matters, said of Mr Johnson’s suggestion he could visit: “I would like to invite him to stay in London and work hard. Capitals don’t negotiate, Barnier does, and he has our full support.”

The prime minister’s official spokesperson was asked three times by journalists at a regular Westminster briefing to confirm or deny whether Mr Johnson had asked for a phone call with the French and German leaders, but he declined to do so.

Pressed on the fact that he was not denying the claim, the spokesperson said: “I would refer you back to my previous answer. The PM has a clear willingness to talk to other leaders.”

One UK official close to talks in Brussels noted the EU’s insistence on negotiations going through the Commission, and said politicians needed to find a route through the deadlocked negotiations.

Boris Johnson pictured in Blyth, Northumberland on Friday

(PA)

Leaders repeatedly delayed an update on Brexit at their summit, with other items like climate change and their seven-year budget round taking priority. Ultimately, the section on Brexit only lasted ten minutes at around 8.30am, after leaders had pulled an all-nighter discussing carbon emissions and the bloc’s policy towards Turkey.

Ms von der Leyen updating them on the state of play. An EU official with knowledge of the discussion said the impression left was that the “probability of a no deal is higher than of a deal”, describing the situation as “difficult”.

Negotiations are continuing between teams in Brussels today with both sides saying they will decide on Sunday whether talks are with continuing with further.

The main blocks to progress are on fishing, and the so-called “level playing field” under which the EU and UK would agree to maintain high labour, environmental and other standards so as not to undercut each other. Mr Johnson on Thursday had said the current deal on the table was unacceptable and because the UK would be forced to follow the EU’s lead on raising standards or face tariff and quotas on its exports.

Speaking at a press conference largely dominated by other issues after the meeting, Ms Von der Leyen attempted to persuade Mr Johnson of the merits of EU proposals.


I would like to invite him to stay in London and work hard. Capitals don’t negotiate, Barnier does, and he has our full support

Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister

“It is only fair that competitors to our own enterprises face the same conditions on our own market.

“But, this is not to say that we would require the UK to follow us every time we decide to raise our level of ambition. For example in the environmental field.

“They would remain free. Sovereign, if you wish, to decide what they want to do. We would simply adapt the conditions for access to our market accordingly the decision of the United Kingdom, and this would apply vice versa.”

Addressing another key sticking point in talks, the president said the UK must recognise “legitimate expectations of EU fishing fleets built on decades and sometimes centuries of access”.

Ms Merkel on Wednesday issued a similar message to German MPs in the Bundestag, her country’s national parliament, warning that she could not accept unfair competition. Trade unions across the bloc have also voiced concerns with weaker proposals for simple “non regression” clauses which would offer more limited guarantees.

Mr Macron, usually a hardliner on dealing with the UK, said he was hopeful Britain and the EU could find a deal. Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, and asked whether continued fishing access demanded by the EU under a no-deal would amount to “having your cake and eating it”, he replied: “I’m not asking to have my cake and eat it, no.

“All I want is a cake that’s worth its weight. Because I won’t give up my share of it either.”

Back in Britain, the news of Mr Johnson’s rejection incensed some Brexit supporters and Tory MPs.

“I stand with millions of Britons that are deeply insulted at the shocking news that the German Chancellor has refused the British Prime Minister’s request for a telephone call,” said Imran Ahmad Khan, the MP for Wakefield.

“This is an insult to every Briton, whether they support our PM or not.”

But Huddersfield Labour MP Barry Sheerman quipped: “Now we all know how Boris Johnson totally blew it when he went to Brussels for his infamous dinner!”

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