The blame game over the likely failure to reach a Brexit deal escalated, with Downing Street accusing German Chancellor Angela Merkel of making an agreement effectively impossible. The pound fell.
According to a British official, Merkel told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that Northern Ireland must remain part of the EU’s customs union if he wants to secure a divorce agreement.
Johnson responded by saying that condition, together with the EU’s unwillingness to engage with his latest proposals, paved the way to a no-deal Brexit. European Council President Donald Tusk hit back.
The sniping is more evidence that the UK and EU will fail to strike a deal ahead of next week’s summit. Without that, Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU by the month’s end.
But, under English law, he also is required to seek an extension if he doesn’t have a deal by October 19 — something that may still force him to seek a delay and hold a general election before going back to Brussels again.
EU officials have privately acknowledged that the British government’s strategy is to pin responsibility for a delay or no-deal Brexit onto them. The bloc has signaled it is willing to permit an extension. The turmoil helped send the pound to the lowest level in a month against the euro on Tuesday.
The need to keep Northern Ireland in the European customs union — at least until the UK finds another suitable way to control goods flowing across the Irish border without the need for additional checks — has been the EU’s position since the start of the Brexit negotiations.