Brexit battle: EU hints at fresh Boris-Merkel clash as UK rules out trade deal extension

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Angela Merkel is reported to have told Boris Johnson in a shocking call last October that she didn’t agree with his plan for a hi-tech customs border on the island of Ireland. The German Chancellor is thought to have told the Prime Minister that if Britain wanted to leave the EU “they could do it no problem”.

But she is then reported to have said that the UK “cannot leave without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union and in full alignment forever.”

At the time, a Number 10 source is reported to have said: “The call with Merkel showed the EU has adopted a new position.

“She made clear a deal is overwhelmingly unlikely and she thinks the EU has a veto on us leaving the customs union.

“Merkel said that if Germany wanted to leave the EU they could do it no problem, but the UK cannot leave without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union and in full alignment forever.

“It was a very useful clarifying moment in all sorts of ways. If this represents a new established position, then it means a deal is essentially impossible not just now but ever.”

Ireland and the European Commission said that Mr Johnson’s plan which consisted of a blend of customs processing centres near the Irish border streamlined by technology “was not acceptable”.

With recent trade talks ending in a stalemate, some officials have hinted of a repeat of the events last October could happen again as the end of the transition period draws closer.

One senior EU source told RTE: “They learned from the last occasion they shouldn’t go down to the wire”.


And another said: “The UK will be worried if they leave it too long, that time pressure will be mostly on their shoulders.

“It will be the same as the Withdrawal Agreement.

“The longer you leave it, the less time there will be to change texts. Then you just have to go off-the-shelf.”

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove yesterday confirmed the UK Government would not extend the Brexit transition period, after the first ministers of Scotland and Wales called for it to do so.

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In a letter to the Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford said exiting the transition period at the end of this year, when the UK economy will just be beginning its recovery from coronavirus, would be “extraordinarily reckless”.

But in a tweet on Friday, Mr Gove said he has officially given notice to EU negotiators that the UK Government will not request an extension beyond the December 31 deadline.

Mr Gove tweeted: “I formally confirmed the UK will not extend the transition period & the moment for extension has now passed.

“On 1 January 2021 we will take back control and regain our political & economic independence.”

UK sources were keen to depict the meeting as the last formal opportunity to request an extension, as it was the final scheduled meeting of the joint committee before the July 1 deadline to make such a request.

But both sides can agree to hold another meeting, where under the Withdrawal Agreement a delay could be asked for.

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