‘No progress’: EU’s David Sassoli downbeat after Brexit talks with Boris Johnson

The president of the European Parliament has said there has been “no progress” on Brexit following talks with Boris Johnson in Downing Street.

“I came here in the confident hope of hearing proposals that could take negotiations forward,” David Sassoli said in a statement.

“However, I must note that there has been no progress.”

The meeting comes after Downing Street claimed German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Mr Johnson that a Brexit deal was “overwhelmingly unlikely”.

The prime minister spoke with Ms Merkel for 30 minutes this morning, with Mr Johnson stressing that Brexit negotiations in Brussels “are close to breaking down”, Number 10 said.

An EU-UK agreement is “essentially impossible not just now but ever” following the “clarifying” phone call, a Downing Street source added.

The government last week unveiled its proposals for a renegotiated Brexit deal, with the PM hoping this can be agreed before the current 31 October deadline.

During the call, Mr Johnson was said to have told Ms Merkel the plans – which would ditch the controversial Irish border backstop arrangement – represented a “reasonable offer”, but that it was not apparent to him “there was any desire for negotiation from the EU”.

The briefing sparked a backlash from Brussels, with European Council President Donald Tusk warning the PM that “what’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game”.

In a tweet directed at Mr Johnson, Mr Tusk said: “At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people. You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis?”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said it was “hard to disagree” with Mr Tusk’s comments.

As well as meeting with Mr Sassoli, Mr Johnson spoke by telephone with Irish PM Leo Varadkar for around 40 minutes.

“Both sides strongly reiterated their desire to reach a Brexit deal,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

“They hope to meet in person later this week.”

In a lengthy statement released after the pair’s meeting, Mr Sassoli said the UK leaving with a deal was “by far the best outcome” – but the European Parliament “will not agree a deal at any price”.

He added: “We have examined the UK proposals to replace the original backstop and our response is that these are a long way from something to which the Parliament could agree. In addition, they are not immediately operable.”

The backstop is designed as an insurance mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, regardless of the future EU/UK trade relationship.

But Mr Johnson has branded the arrangement “undemocratic” and wants to scrap it.

Brexiteers fear it could leave the UK trapped in the EU’s customs union – limiting the capacity for new independent trade deals – as well as following EU rules but with no influence over them.

Mr Johnson has previously vowed to take the UK out of the EU “do or die”.

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But legislation passed by opposition MPs last month compels him to seek a delay to Brexit if he hasn’t secured a deal – or MPs have explicitly approved a no-deal exit – by 19 October.

Mr Sassoli said Brussels was open to agreeing another extension “should there be a good reason or purpose for this”.

On the prospect of a no-deal scenario, he said this would “clearly be the responsibility of the UK government”.

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer accused the PM of “engaging in a reckless blame game” and said he was “intent on collapsing the talks”.

“The prime minister should be here. Talks with the EU are collapsing as we speak,” he told the Commons.

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