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I wouldn't hold my breath over doing a deal with EU: Boris

By Philip Ryan

Boris Johnson has threatened to bring Brexit negotiations down to the wire and reignited fears of the UK crashing out of the EU without a trade deal.

Speaking after his first meetings with EU leaders, the Prime Minister warned against optimism of an imminent breakthrough in the talks and said any deal on the backstop would only be struck at the last minute.

"We are making progress but I am just telling people not to hold their breath, because I have seen the way these Brussels negotiations work," he said.

Mr Johnson added that EU agreements are "always on the steps of the court".

In stark contrast to his optimistic comments after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, he said he may not be able to strike a deal with the EU.

He added the EU was "very hard" against proposals to replace the backstop with arrangements he claimed could result in "frictionless trade".

"I'm afraid we will have to prepare to come out without an agreement and we can do that, we are very confident that we will be okay because we will have all sorts of preparations in place," he said.

A senior EU source said Mr Johnson went back to London "with his tail between his legs" after meeting Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron.

However, the source was sceptical of Mr Johnson's comment about having to be prepared to leave without an agreement, insisting the EU still believes a deal will be struck with the Prime Minister.

There's a view among some senior EU officials that Mr Johnson will be prepared to "talk turkey" after the Conservative Party conference at the start of October.

A source insisted: "What Mr Johnson has found out in the last three weeks is that the EU 27 are solid and they're not going to sacrifice Ireland.

"Ireland is standing firm, the EU is standing behind Ireland to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border."

A spokeswoman for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "We have always said the backstop is a necessary insurance policy pending better arrangements that achieve the necessary outcome; namely no hard border on this island, while protecting the customs union and the single market."

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