Brussels is braced for Boris Johnson to storm out of next week’s EU summit on Brexit after the expected failure to secure agreement on a replacement for the Irish backstop.
Speculation is rife that the Prime Minister will walk out of the European Council in Brussels as part of a British strategy to “fabricate a crisis”. EU diplomatic sources warned that the tactic would fail in forcing the bloc to shift its red lines.
“You can hit your fists on the table but in the end only the fist will hurt,” one EU diplomat said.
“If they want to walk out, they can walk out but if they want a deal they will have to come back to the table,” the diplomat said.
"A walkout? Is this part of the Cummings strategy?” a senior EU official said before joking that parliament could send the Queen in Mr Johnson’s stead.
“Heads of state or heads of government can attend the European Council,” the source added.
Another EU diplomat implied the walk-out would surprise no one in the Belgian capital, which is long-used to the Prime Ministers vowing to battle for Britain in Brussels.
The Benn Act forces the Prime Minister, or a senior government representative, to ask for an extension to the October 31 Brexit deadline if no deal with Brussels is agreed by October 19, two days after the summit.
An extension, if granted by the EU27, is expected to lead to a general election but Mr Johnson has said he would rather "die in a ditch" than ask for one.
Britain and the EU remain deeply divided over the Irish backstop. Relations between the two camps hit a new low on Tuesday after Downing Street briefed details of a phone call between Mr Johnson and Angela Merkel, which exposed how opposed the two sides are.
Sources in Brussels suspect the British Government could attempt to use the October 17 summit to pin the blame for a no deal on the EU.
A defiant walkout in front of TV cameras, or a refusal to attend the summit at all, could be used to bolster a Conservative election campaign fought on a no-deal platform.
They accused Mr Johnson of twisting the words of EU leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel in a bid to destabilise Brussels and win domestic political points.
“All of these meetings with EU leaders were not to convince them to back the British plan but to simply use them for spin. They are fabricating a crisis,” the first diplomat said.
“That might work in domestic politics but trying to coerce 27 countries into changing their mind at once? That is a long shot.”
Diplomatic sources pointed out that David Cameron vetoed an EU treaty designed to salvage the single currency in 2011. After Mr Cameron stormed out of talks, the remaining 27 countries sealed the pact without Britain.
The diplomat said, “If Johnson wants to use the summit as a backdrop to the election campaign before being dragged kicking and screaming towards an extension, he can do that but it won’t get him a deal.”
“We’re not bothered if he does walk out. The real deadline is October 31 not October 17 and we have ten other things to talk about at the summit. This might even give us the space to do that.”