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EU and MPs collaborating to block Brexit, claims Boris Johnson

Julian Simmonds/The Daily Telegraph/PA Wire

By Richard Wheeler and Josh Thomas, PA

Boris Johnson has accused MPs and the EU of collaborating to block Brexit, as he warned of the increasing risk of leaving without a deal.

The Prime Minister claimed Brussels is "not moving in their willingness to compromise" and warned a no-deal Brexit becomes more likely the longer this goes on.

He urged the UK's "European friends to compromise" but said their position is likely to harden the more they believe Westminster can block Brexit.

Mr Johnson's remarks, made during a self-styled "People's PMQs" from his Downing Street desk, came after the European Commission insisted Britain needs to explain its ideas on the way forward if talks are to progress.

Vanessa Mock, a European Commission spokeswoman, said "our doors are open" to discuss matters with the UK although any "concrete proposals" should be "compatible" with the Withdrawal Agreement.

Philip Hammond also made his first major intervention since quitting as chancellor, arguing that a no-deal Brexit would be "as much a betrayal" of the 2016 referendum as not leaving at all.

He added it could cause "irreparable damage" to the union of the UK, and hit out at "those who are pulling the strings in Downing Street, those who are setting the strategy".

Mr Hammond also warned that trying to "bypass Parliament" to force through a no-deal Brexit would "provoke a constitutional crisis".

The continuing row over the Brexit process has dominated the summer recess, with Mr Johnson maintaining he is intent on ensuring the UK leaves the EU on October 31.

Asked how he can deliver this pledge given the lack of movement from the EU and opposition from MPs, Mr Johnson said: "There's a terrible kind of collaboration, as it were, going on between people who think they can block Brexit in Parliament and our European friends.

"And our European friends are not moving in their willingness to compromise, they're not compromising at all on the Withdrawal Agreement even though it's been thrown out three times, they're sticking to every letter, every comma of the Withdrawal Agreement - including the backstop - because they still think Brexit can be blocked in Parliament.

"The awful thing is the longer that goes on, the more likely it is of course that we will be forced to leave with a no-deal Brexit.

"That's not what I want, it's not what we're aiming for but we need our European friends to compromise.

"The more they think there's a chance that Brexit can be blocked in Parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position."

Mr Johnson said he remains "confident we will get there" and leave the EU on October 31, adding: "In the end both our friends in other European capitals and I think MPs will see it's vital to get on and to do it."

Ms Mock earlier told a media briefing in Brussels: "We're ready to analyse any concrete proposals that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement, and also ready to rework the future relationship as outlined in the Political Declaration. The UK knows well that our doors remain open to that effect.

"But for the talks to progress the UK Government needs to explain its ideas on how it sees the way forward, respecting the commitments it took earlier in these negotiations."

Asked if the refusal to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement also stands for any future British government, such as a Labour administration, Ms Mock replied: "Our doors are open to discuss with the UK authorities, I never said anything about refusal, but I won't go beyond what I said."

Conservative MP Mr Hammond said Mr Johnson's attempts to get the EU to back down on the backstop are a "wrecking tactic".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Hammond said: "Leaving the EU without a deal would be just as much a betrayal of the referendum result as not leaving at all."

He said there is no mandate for no deal, and that most people want a close relationship with the EU to protect jobs and the economy.

"More than 17 million people did not vote to leave the EU with no deal. That is the key point here. There is no mandate for leaving with no deal."

Mr Hammond also accused the Government of making "unsubstantiated" claims over Brexit which he said need to be checked.

He said: "Over the last three weeks I have deliberately kept quiet to allow the Prime Minister the space and time to set out his plan for getting a deal that will lead to a good Brexit.

"But we cannot simply allow the Government's unsubstantiated message to go unchecked.

"A no-deal exit will cause significant harm to the UK economy and, potentially, irreparable damage to the union of the United Kingdom. People need to know the facts."

Commons Speaker John Bercow, in remarks reported by the Herald newspaper, told an audience at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: "If there is an attempt to circumvent, to bypass or - God forbid - to close down Parliament, that is anathema to me.

"I will fight with every breath in my body to stop that happening."

Meanwhile, the Transport Secretary said the Government has issued an "invitation to tender" for £300 million of freight to make sure supplies can reach the UK after Brexit.

Grant Shapps said he will be attending the Exit Operations Committee in the Cabinet Office to "plan the detail to make sure that when we do leave, which we will do on October 31, it is as smooth as it possibly can be".

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