The stand-off between the UK and the EU has deepened as both sides accused each other of failing to engage in Brexit negotiations and raising the chance of a no-deal scenario.
Michael Gove, the government’s minister for no-deal preparations, added to the war of words over the lack of talks, saying it was “wrong and sad” that the EU was refusing to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement to remove the Irish border backstop.
It followed reports that senior EU officials had concluded Boris Johnson’s government has no intention of negotiating and that its “central scenario” was no-deal on 31 October.
In Brussels, the European Commission insisted it was open to talks but made clear Theresa May’s Brexit agreement was “the best possible deal” the UK will get.
That position was underlined by Irish premier Leo Varadkar, who insisted that the Withdrawal Agreement - including the Northern Ireland backstop - could not be re-opened.
Following a meeting of the Government’s Brexit “war cabinet”, Mr Gove insisted the Government was ready to engage in talks in a “spirit of friendliness”.
But the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster added: “We will put all our energy into making sure that we can secure that good deal but at the moment it is the EU that seems to be saying they are not interested.
“They are simply saying ‘No, we don’t want to talk’. I think that is wrong and sad. It is not in Europe’s interests.”
Speaking on a visit to Northern Ireland, Mr Varadkar repeated an invitation to Mr Johnson to go to Dublin for talks on the basis of “no preconditions”.
However, he said the Withdrawal Agreement could not be re-opened, although the EU could offer “clarifications” as well as possible changes to the Political Declaration on the future relationship between the UK and Brussels.
“Our position is that the Withdrawal Agreement including the backstop is closed. But there is always room for talks and negotiations,” he said.
“We can certainly make changes to the Political Declaration and we have demonstrated before that it is possible to offer clarifications.”
Mr Varadkar insisted the Irish government was prepared for a no-deal Brexit, but added that he was “not fatalistic”.
Concern in Brussels has risen sharply following a meeting last week between senior EU figures and Mr Johnson’s top EU adviser, David Frost.
One official reportedly told diplomats from EU member states that the UK has no alternative to no-deal and “no intention to negotiate”.