Brexit negotiations didn’t collapse on Tuesday — but only because in the EU’s eyes they never really resumed after Theresa May’s resignation last summer.
Still, after a turbulent day, the already-remote chances of a deal before next week’s European Council summit seemed closer to nil, though London and Brussels gave sharply differing accounts of why that appeared to be the case.
At least this much everyone agreed on: The day started with a tough phone call between U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that highlighted just how far apart the two sides still are.
But from there, the accounts diverged wildly.
A read-out of the call from No. 10 Downing Street, provided to several British news organizations and undisputed by the prime minister’s official spokesperson, accused Merkel of effectively torpedoing any chance of a deal. The account of the conversation claimed that Merkel had hardened the EU position, insisting that Northern Ireland remain part of the EU’s customs territory, and in alignment with EU regulations “forever.”
“We simply don’t see how it could work in practice. We simply don’t understand it” — A senior EU official on Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposal
“If this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible, not just now but ever,” the No. 10 official was quoted as saying. “It also made clear that they are willing to torpedo the Good Friday Agreement,” the official added.
For EU officials, the read-out of the call with Merkel, who has never taken maximalist positions on Brexit, seemed to be evidence of something they suspected all along: that Johnson was not really interested in reaching an accord.