UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW MATTHEWS
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREW MATTHEWS

London — Britain will take an aggressive stance towards the EU if Brexit talks break down, threatening to withhold security co-operation to convince the bloc not to allow any further delay, a British source was quoted as saying.

With just 23 days to go before the UK is due to leave the EU, the future of Brexit remains deeply uncertain and both London and Brussels are positioning themselves to avoid blame for a delay or a disorderly no-deal Brexit.

EU leaders reacted coolly to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s last-ditch proposals to bridge the impasse, and while negotiations are ongoing, many diplomats say the chances of a swift deal before October 31 are low.

“The negotiations will probably end this week,” The Spectator magazine quoted an unidentified source in Downing Street as saying. The source added that those who hoped that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would help London were “deluded”.

“This government will not negotiate further so any delay would be totally pointless,” the source was quoted as saying. “We’ll either leave with no deal on October 31 or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal.”

Amber Rudd, the former pensions secretary who quit her job and the Conservative Party in September over Johnson’s Brexit strategy told BBC radio the source appeared to be his senior adviser, Dominic Cummings. “It sounds angry and desperate,” she said. “Since it hasn’t been denied by Number 10 ... one can only assume it’s come from the centre, from the prime minister’s adviser. It reveals that there doesn’t appear an actual plan at all.”

The source was cited as making it clear that defence and security co-operation will be affected if the EU tries to keep Britain in the EU. The source also said that any EU states that oppose a delay would be granted good co-operation.

Johnson has consistently said the UK will leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal, though a law passed by his opponents demands he write a letter to the EU asking for a delay if he cannot strike an exit deal by October 19. He said he would abide by the law but Britain would leave the EU by the end of the month without explaining that contradiction. He has also repeatedly demanded an election but parliament has refused to grant one.

The source quoted by The Spectator appeared to have two views about a delay: that the government could frustrate a delay but that if it was forced to extend Brexit then it would fight an election calling for an immediate no-deal exit.

“Our legal advice is clear that we can do all sorts of things to scupper delay, which, for obvious reasons we aren’t going into details about,” the Spectator’s source said. “We will focus on winning the election on a manifesto of immediately revoking the entire EU legal order without further talks, and then we will leave.” 

The source said that EU support for a delay would be seen by the British government as hostile interference in domestic politics “and over half of the public will agree with us”.

Unless the EU compromises and does a Brexit deal shortly, then the UK will leave without a deal, a senior Downing Street source told Reuters on Tuesday. “If the EU doesn’t do a deal shortly, then we leave without a deal,” the source said. “We are leaving the EU.” 

On Tuesday, the host of next week’s European summit, EU Council president Donald Tusk accused Johnson of trying to shift blame for the failure of Brexit talks. “What’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game,” Tusk declared, in a Twitter message addressed directly to the British leader. “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?”

Reuters, AFP