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Boris Johnson snubbed by Merkel and Macron after requesting phone calls about Brexit deal

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in parliament in London, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in parliament in London, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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UK prime minister Boris Johnson tried to set up calls with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron to discuss a Brexit deal but was rebuffed to present a united front, it has emerged.

Johnson attempted to arrange calls with the leaders of the European Union's two biggest economies on Monday ahead of his crunch talks over dinner with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels.

A senior EU official confirmed that the request had been made but that the UK premier had been refused and told that all negotiations must be done through the European Commission.

Johnson's attempt to circumvent the Commission was roundly criticised in EU circles, even by key UK allies, including Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Rutte voiced his support for the EU negotiating team, saying: "I would like to invite him [Johnson] to stay in London and work hard. Capitals don't negotiate, Barnier does, and he has our full support".

It comes as Johnson warned on Friday that it was now "very, very likely" that the UK would exit the Brexit transition period on January 1 without a trade deal with the EU in place.

Ursula von der Leyen was equally pessimistic, telling the leaders of the 27 countries meeting at the Brussels summit that hopes of an agreement were "low".

Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and Ireland, on the front line on the Brexit front, tempered their views by judging that an agreement remains "possible".

Unless there is a major breakthrough between now and Sunday, the deadline set by von der Leyen and Johnson, trade across the Channel is likely to take place under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Brexit talks are at a standstill over disagreements on three key issues: fisheries, dispute settlement in the future trade agreement and the EU's demand for guarantees over competition.

On the latter, the thorniest issue, the EU wants to ensure convergence with the UK on social, environmental, tax and state aid standards to avoid unbridled competition.

"It is normal that competitors of our own companies are exposed to the same conditions in our own market," von der Leyen explained at a press conference.

Europeans do not expect the UK to be forced to adapt to every legislative change, she said.

The British, who officially left the EU on January 31, 2020, "would remain free, sovereign, to decide what they want to do. We would simply adapt the conditions of access to our market" according to their decision, she explained.

London, for its part, says the EU's proposals do not respect its sovereignty.

The news that Johnson was rebuffed by Merkel and Macron incensed the Conservative Party and the prime minister's supporters.

Imran Ahmad, Tory MP for Wakefield, tweeted: "I stand with millions of Britons that are deeply insulted at the shocking news that the German Chancellor has refused the British Prime Minister’s request for a telephone call.

"This is an insult to every Briton, whether they support our PM or not."

Labour MP for Huddersfield Barry Sheerman on the other hand quipped: "Now we all know how Boris Johnson totally blew it when he went to Brussels for his infamous dinner!"