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British government must take a serious approach to border issue

European Council president Donald Tusk is nothing if not direct and his exasperation at Boris Johnson was evident from his tweet yesterday.

He accused the prime minister of engaging in a 'stupid blame game' and stressed that what is at stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and wider interests of citizens.

He added: ''You don't want a deal, you don't want an extension, you don't want to revoke, quo vadis?'', the Latin phrase meaning, where are you going?

It is not know if Mr Tusk was sending a pointed message to Mr Johnson, who is fond of Classical references, but it is clear he is not impressed by the prime minister's approach to the negotiations.

Certainly, the atmosphere between the UK and the EU leaders deteriorated sharply yesterday.

Mr Tusk's intervention came after Downing Street sources claimed Angela Merkel had made it clear in a phone call with Mr Johnson that an agreement was now 'overwhelmingly unlikely'.

A Number 10 source said the German chancellor had told the prime minister that the UK could not leave the EU without leaving Northern Ireland behind in a customs union.

Meanwhile, an unnamed Number 10 source reportedly briefed The Spectator magazine that defence and security cooperation with the EU would be affected if there was an attempt to keep Britain in the bloc against the will of the British government.

There is no doubt that a serious amount of spinning is going on to try to increase pressure on the EU, in particular Leo Varadkar, while ensuring that any blame for the collapse of the negotiations lies not with Mr Johnson.

Quite obviously, the stakes are getting ever higher but it is irresponsible in the extreme for someone at the heart of the British government to suggest that vital arrangements could be a bargaining chip in all this.

Northern Ireland secretary of state Julian Smith expressed his disapproval, saying that any threat to withdraw security cooperation with Ireland is 'unacceptable.'

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the taoiseach wants to find a compromise that works, adding that this is not about pressure or personalities but solving a problem.

We must hope that even at this late stage Boris Johnson and his team recognise that there are profoundly complex and sensitive issues at stake on this island which require a serious and measured approach.

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