Boris Johnson has accused the EU of being too “negative” after both Angela Merkel and Brussels chief Donald Tusk trashed his latest Brexit plans as a non-starter.
In a clear signal that he’s gearing up to blame the EU for a no-deal outcome this autumn, the prime minister said that Berlin and Paris were just sticking to a “mantra” after they flatly rejected his plea to reopen talks.
Rebel Tory and Labour MPs were also in his sights as he claimed Brussels was unlikely to grant concessions as long as they believed the Commons was ready to block an exit on October 31.
Ahead of a trip to meet German chancellor and French president and a G7 summit at the weekend, Johnson joked that the only way to get a deal was through a “backstop-ectomy” that removed plans to keep the UK linked indefinitely to EU rules.
The PM insisted that while he was keen on new alternative ways of solving the problem of keeping open borders between Ireland and Northern Ireland, they could only be part of a future trade deal signed after the UK quits the 28-nation bloc on Halloween.
His refusal to budge came as Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay unveiled new plans to remove ministers and officials from most EU meetings from September 1.
Earlier, the EU effectively closed the door on any fresh talks, flatly rejecting Johnson’s request on Monday night to remove the ‘backstop’ from any withdrawal deal and instead discuss other unspecified “guarantees”.
Merkel made clear she stood firm with the rest of her colleagues in insisting that she would not tear up the withdrawal agreement hammered out with May over the past two years.
WATCH: The Prime Minister cannot give me one new idea he's come up with for solving the issue of the Northern Irish border...— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) August 20, 2019
... but he tells me Theresa May didn't argue strongly enough for other alternatives to the backstop, which have been previously suggested. pic.twitter.com/Wftecn3yTk
The German leader said that she was ready to find “practical solutions” to the Irish border issue, but sent a stark warning that any compromise could only come in the future declaration on EU-UK relations - something Tory and DUP MPs have ruled out.
“We don’t need to open up the withdrawal agreement. It’s a question of the future relationship,” she said.
Norbert Rottgen, an ally of Merkel’s, was even more withering, declaring “the letter to the president of the European Council is not a serious offer, and Boris Johnson knows it”.
EU Council president Tusk was just as blunt, tweeting that the UK government’s failure to propose “realistic alternatives” would cause real problems on the Irish issue, “even if they do not admit it”.
European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said: “The time for bluster and political blame games is fast running out.”
In a pooled broadcast interview, the PM said the fact was that May’s deal had been voted down three times by the UK parliament and other ways forward were needed.
“At the moment it is absolutely true that our friends and partners are a bit negative. I saw what Donald Tusk had to say, and it wasn’t redolent of a sense of optimism.
“I’m going off to Germany and then to France, and then to see the G7 [summit] at Biarritz, and I’m going to make the point that the backstop is going to come out.
“It may be that for now, they stick with the mantra, rien ne va plus, and they can’t change a jot or a tittle of the WA [withdrawal agreement]. Let’s see how long they stick to that, I think there are plenty of other creative solutions.”
He told ITV News: “All we are saying to our friends and partners is it is time to remove that backstop, get rid of it, have a total backstop-ectomy and I think then we can make progress.”
But as well as appearing to blame the EU for a lack of compromise, Johnson also made plain that MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit would also be held responsible.
“Our EU friends still clearly think there is a possibility that Parliament will block Brexit, and as long as they think that there is a possibility that Parliament will block Brexit, they are unlikely to be minded to make the concessions that we need,” he said.
In his letter to the EU on Monday, Johnson said he was ready to work “constructively and flexibly” on new “commitments” to prevent a hard border with Ireland. But many critics said the plan was so vague it was meaningless.
In yet another sign that the new government is preparing for a no-deal exit, Barclay announced that from next month ministers and officials would not attend most EU meetings.
HuffPost UK understands that the UK will hand its vote to Finland, which currently chairs the EU, and would either abstain or go with the Brussels consensus on matters affecting the bloc’s internal affairs.
But the plan was ridiculed by critics at home and in Europe.
Labour MP and People’s Vote supporter Martin Whitfield said: “Today brings us the great flounce, as UK ministers and officials are told to pack their bags, switch off their phones and stop talking to our EU colleagues. It is a pitiful retreat from our position at the heart of European decision-making.”
Lib Dem MP Tom Brake added: “This petulant move, and the inflammatory language used to describe it, demonstrates that this Conservative Government is not serious about constructively engaging with our EU partners. The situation is a national embarrassment.”