The president of the European Parliament has told Sky News that a no-deal Brexit could be a “catastrophe” and Boris Johnson needs to “feel this responsibility” as the clock ticks towards the deadline for Britain’s EU exit.
David Sassoli said it is “painful” to think about such a scenario being realised, as it will “put the UK’s exit in a tunnel from which we don’t know how to come out”.
“There could be problems with economy, security… there could also be a catastrophe,” he said.
“We don’t know that. And that’s why I invited PM Johnson to feel this responsibility.”
Mr Sassoli added: “I believe that he, like everyone, must feel this as an important moment in the history of the European Union and the history of the relationship between our countries.”
He was speaking after holding talks with the prime minister in Downing Street, after which he declared there had been “no progress” towards agreeing a new deal between Britain and the EU ahead of the 31 October deadline.
Mr Sassoli told Sky News that Mr Johnson said to him that he “will not ask for an extension”.
“We hope he has a good proposal that we can discuss until the last moment,” he said.
“We are convinced there can be a deal but there needs to be credible and workable proposals.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said the PM restated his preference for leaving with a deal, adding: “The prime minister set out how there is little time remaining to negotiate a new agreement, and so we need to move quickly and work together to agree a deal.
“He reiterated that if we did not reach an agreement then the UK will leave without a deal on 31 October.”
The meeting comes after Downing Street claimed German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Mr Johnson that a Brexit deal was “overwhelmingly unlikely”.
The prime minister spoke with Mrs Merkel for 30 minutes on Tuesday, with Mr Johnson stressing that Brexit negotiations in Brussels “are close to breaking down”, Number 10 said.
An EU-UK agreement is “essentially impossible not just now but ever” following the “clarifying” phone call, a Downing Street source added.
The government last week unveiled its proposals for a renegotiated Brexit deal, with the PM hoping this can be agreed before the current 31 October deadline.
During the call, Mr Johnson was said to have told Ms Merkel the plans – which would ditch the controversial Irish border backstop arrangement – represented a “reasonable offer”, but that it was not apparent to him “there was any desire for negotiation from the EU”.
The briefing sparked a backlash from Brussels, with European Council President Donald Tusk warning the PM that “what’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game”.
In a tweet directed at Mr Johnson, Mr Tusk said: “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?”
As well as meeting with Mr Sassoli, Mr Johnson spoke by telephone with Irish PM Leo Varadkar for around 40 minutes.
“Both sides strongly reiterated their desire to reach a Brexit deal,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
“They hope to meet in person later this week.”
Mr Varadkar has told RTE News that it will be “very difficult” to secure a deal by next week and Ireland and the EU would not accept an agreement at “any cost”.
In a lengthy statement released after the pair’s meeting, Mr Sassoli said the UK leaving with a deal was “by far the best outcome” – but the European Parliament “will not agree a deal at any price”.
He added: “We have examined the UK proposals to replace the original backstop and our response is that these are a long way from something to which the parliament could agree. In addition, they are not immediately operable.”
The backstop is designed as an insurance mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, regardless of the future EU/UK trade relationship.
But Mr Johnson has branded the arrangement “undemocratic” and wants to scrap it.
Brexiteers fear it could leave the UK trapped in the EU’s customs union – limiting the capacity for new independent trade deals – as well as following EU rules but with no influence over them.
Mr Johnson has previously vowed to take the UK out of the EU “do or die”.
But legislation passed by opposition MPs last month compels him to seek a delay to Brexit if he hasn’t secured a deal – or MPs have explicitly approved a no-deal exit – by 19 October.
Mr Sassoli said Brussels was open to agreeing another extension “should there be a good reason or purpose for this”.
On the prospect of a no-deal scenario, he said this would “clearly be the responsibility of the UK government”.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer accused the PM of “engaging in a reckless blame game” and said he was “intent on collapsing the talks”.