The British government has shown EU negotiators no “concrete proposals” to replace the backstop, despite it claiming to have made progress and “intensified” Brexit talks, Brussels has said.
Asked about progress in talks, a spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters in Brussels: “I cannot report any concrete proposals having been made that we have seen.”
It comes amid a row in Westminster about whether the government is treating talks as “a sham” to fool MPs and the public – as leaks attributed to Downing Street appear to suggest.
On the question of a no-deal Brexit, the commission’s chief spokesperson said: “Whether it’s the most likely scenario, I would say it is a very distinct possibility.” EU officials drawing up plans to allow member states hit by a no deal – such as Ireland – to draw on EU aid normally reserved for natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding.
Asked whether Boris Johnson was wrong to say progress had been made, the spokesperson said: “We are progressively making progress in pursuing the talks, because we are meeting now more often – but I will not go into any substance because these are technical talks. If there is any substantive progress to be made you will surely be informed.”
Of the concrete proposals, she later added: “We are not insisting now on having anything on paper, it can be digital as well.”
Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s top aide, is reported to have described talks as “a sham” in internal strategy meetings back in Westminster.
Additionally, the attorney general Geoffrey Cox warned the prime minister it was a “complete fantasy” to think the EU would ditch the backstop, according to accounts from The Daily Telegraph.
But the UK government’s public position has been to claim that there is a realistic chance of the Irish backstop being removed from the withdrawal agreement.
Downing Street claims the leaks are not true and based on “unsubstantiated claims” – but they square accurately with the impression of the negotiations being formed by Europe officials.
One EU source told The Independent: “They are just lying now about the talks in Brussels.”
Former chancellor Philip Hammond told the BBC on Tuesday morning: “There are no substantive negotiations going on.”
Another leaked document from the start of the week showed that government commissioned experts had found flaws and issues with every “alternative arrangement” proposal they had considered to replace the backstop.
Sky News reported that a draft version of the UK’s revised protocol for the backstop was merely the old protocol, with the sections referring to the backstop crossed out.
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