Boris Johnson is heading to Berlin and Paris to “see if there’s movement” on the European side in an effort to break the Brexit deadlock, no-deal planning chief Michael Gove has said.
The European Union has restated its “single united position” over Brexit ahead of the Prime Minister’s talks with the leaders of its most influential nations.
Mr Johnson is set to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin later on Wednesday and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Thursday in his first overseas trip since entering Number 10.
Mrs Merkel said she would use their talks to discuss how to achieve “the most friction-free British exit from the European Union possible” in order to protect economic growth.
But Paris now views a no-deal Brexit as the most likely outcome, according to French diplomatic sources.
The demand to scrap the backstop “limits the possibility of reaching an agreement”, the official said.
Mr Gove, speaking during a visit to Holyhead Port in Anglesey, North Wales, said: “We’re going to do everything we can to try to get a deal and Boris is seeing Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron in order to try to see if there’s movement on the European side, but so far we haven’t seen much movement from the EU and its leaders so we have to plan prudently in case we don’t get a deal.”
Brussels insisted Mr Johnson would not be able to undermine the EU’s unity by holding bilateral meetings with the German and French leaders.
European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said: “The EU27 have had from the outset – and continue to have now – one single, united position on Brexit matters.”
Ireland’s Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said a no-deal Brexit is much more likely now than it has ever been as a result of Mr Johnson’s approach.
The Prime Minister has called for the backstop – the contingency measures designed to ensure a soft border with Ireland remains in all circumstances – to be scrapped.
Mr Coveney said: “There is a consequence to the approach that the British Government is taking and that consequence is that they are making a no-deal far more likely.
“There is a reason why Boris Johnson is visiting Berlin today and Paris tomorrow – to try to talk to EU leaders about finding a way forward.
“I think he will get a very consistent message from EU leaders that the negotiations over the last two to three years are not going to be abandoned now.”
Speaking on RTE Radio One, Mr Coveney said the Irish would not be “steam-rolled at the end of this because a British prime minister has rolled out new red lines”.
“That’s not a reasonable approach,” he said.
Tory former minister Ed Vaizey suggested Mr Johnson was “just going through the motions” with his Europe trip this week and was “hell-bent on getting no-deal”.
Mr Johnson claimed during the Tory leadership election that the chances of a no-deal Brexit were “a million to one against”.
But asked what the chances of a no-deal Brexit were, Mr Gove told the PA news agency: “Different people put a different statistical likelihood on it.
“My view is that there is a chance that it might happen, therefore we need to be ready for it, and many of the things that we would do anyway as we leave the single market and the customs union we would do or need to do in the event of leaving without a deal.”
On Saturday, Mr Johnson will be at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, where he will meet other world leaders, including US President Donald Trump.
Mr Trump claimed the EU had “not treated the UK very well” but Mr Johnson was the “right person in charge”.
He said: “Dealing with the UK, they have not treated the UK very well. That’s a very tough bargain they’re driving, the European Union.”
The Government is ramping up its preparations for no-deal, with Chancellor Sajid Javid announcing an auto-enrolment scheme to help businesses prepare for post-Brexit trade with the EU.
HM Revenue and Customs will begin automatically enrolling businesses in a customs ID-system in an attempt to double the number which are currently registered.
More than 88,000 VAT-registered companies across the UK will be allocated an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number in the next two weeks in order to keep trading with customers and suppliers in the EU once the UK has left the EU.
Labour described it as a “panicked announcement”, while the Liberal Democrats said the Government was “flailing from one crisis to the next”.
The Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government has also announced a £9 million fund to help councils in areas with key ports to make sure they have the personnel needed to deal with any disruption at terminals.