The U.K. stepped up preparations for a no-deal Brexit in three weeksâ time as negotiations with the European Union headed toward a breakdown.
In a call Tuesday morning, Boris Johnson told German Chancellor Angela Merkel a divorce agreement is essentially impossible if the EU demands Northern Ireland must stay in the blocâs customs union. He blamed the EUâs refusal to engage with his blueprint for the likely collapse of talks. The blocâs leaders hit back.
As the pound fell on news of the clashes, Johnsonâs government published a 156-page report setting out what the country is doing - and what businesses and citizens must still do - to prepare for leaving the EU on Oct. 31 without a deal.
German officials took a dim view of what they described as Johnsonâs attempt to dole out blame after his call with Merkel. Johannes Wadephul, a deputy parliamentary group leader in Merkelâs Christian Democratic Union, said the U.K. prime ministerâs strategy would backfire.
âIf Johnson points a finger at Merkel, then three point back at him,â Wadephul, a foreign-policy expert, said in a text message. âHe doesnât want to recognize that the so-called backstop is unavoidable.â
Brexit Party Chairman Richard Tice said he doesnât believe the government has a âcunning planâ to avoid having to delay Brexit, and predicted the EU will decide to give the U.K. an extension thatâs âsomewhat longerâ than the three months currently envisaged. The best thing then would be an early general election, he said.
Speaking at the Bloomberg Invest conference on Tuesday, Tice claimed that if Boris Johnsonâs Conservatives agreed to an electoral pact with his party, the two combined could deliver a âthumping majorityâ of 60 to 100 seats in the House of Commons.
Make UK, the manufacturing lobby group, issued a strongly-worded statement saying the country isnât ready for a no-deal Brexit, whatever Michael Gove, the Cabinet minister in charge of planning for that outcome, says.
âThe more evidence that government publishes the more it confirms that we are nowhere near ready for a âno dealâ Brexit,â Make UK Chief Executive Officer Stephen Phipson said in a statement. âAs it stands, exporters are going to be massively disadvantaged by leaving without an agreement.â
Phipson warned a no-deal departure would represent a âseismic changeâ and said thereâs no resolution on post-Brexit arrangements for issues including the mutual recognition of goods and data transfer.
Nineteen MPs from the opposition Labour Party wrote to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk urging them to work ânight and day, if requiredâ to secure a deal.
âIf a new deal can be brought back to the Commons in the coming weeks that avoids a no-deal Brexit and ensures greater certainty during the U.K.âs departure, we believe it serves Britainâs national interest to approve it,â The MPs wrote. âOur votes will be decisive in determining the approval of that deal.â
The intervention indicates far more Labour MPs are ready to back a Brexit deal in the House of Commons than was the case when Theresa Mayâs deal was last voted on in March. Then it garnered just five Labour votes.