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Brexit deal prospects 'touch and go', Boris Johnson claims

Andrew Parsons/Pool via REUTERS

The prospect of a Brexit deal is "touch and go" but failure to reach an accord would be the fault of the European Union, Boris Johnson has said.

The Prime Minister, who was using the G7 summit in Biarritz to hold talks with European Council president Donald Tusk, said he believed the chances of a deal were "improving" following a round of diplomacy which has also seen meetings with Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Emmanuel Macron.

But he refused to repeat his previous assertion that the odds of a no-deal outcome were a million to one.

"It all depends on our EU friends and partners, I think in the last few days there has been a dawning realisation in Brussels and other European capital what the shape of the problem is for the UK," he told the BBC.

"I think it's going to be touch and go but the important thing is to get ready to come out without a deal."

In a series of broadcast interviews Mr Johnson confirmed that he would withhold the bulk of the £39 billion Brexit divorce bill if there is not a deal.

"I think what the entire European Union understands is that if we come out without a deal that the £39 billion is not pledged," he told Sky.

If there was a no-deal Brexit, he said he would "guarantee" that people would still be able to get medicine and "I think it's highly unlikely that there will be food shortages of any kind".

The UK "can easily cope with a no-deal scenario", he claimed.

Mr Johnson went for a swim in the Atlantic before his meetings at the G7 and told ITV: "I swam round that rock this morning. From here you cannot tell there is a gigantic hole in that rock. There is a way through.

"My point to the EU is that there is a way through, but you can't find the way through if you just sit on the beach."

Before the summit, Mr Tusk urged Mr Johnson not to go down in history as "Mr No Deal".

The Prime Minister told Sky: "The people who are going to be responsible for no deal are not in the UK, we don't want no-deal."

Following the talks with Mr Tusk, Downing Street said the Prime Minister had told the council president "we will work in an energetic and determined way to get a better deal and we are very willing to sit down to talk with the EU and member states about what needs to be done to achieve that".

But an EU official said the meeting had mainly restated known positions and Brussels had been hoping for "new elements to unblock the situation".

The Prime Minister's comments came as he faced a backlash over reports he had sought legal advice from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox about temporarily shutting down Parliament - known as prorogation - for five weeks from September 9.

The Observer reported that the move would allow for a Queen's Speech, starting a new parliamentary session, on October 14.

Such a move would keep MPs away from the Commons until shortly before the European Council summit of EU leaders on October 17, potentially preventing moves to block a no-deal Brexit.

A Government source added: "The claim that the Government is considering proroguing parliament in September in order to stop MPs debating Brexit is entirely false."

But Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "If Boris Johnson can find a kooky or irregular way to shut Parliament out of the Brexit process, it will be an outrage."