TOPSHOT - A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gesturing as he reacts to main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during his first Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons in London on September 4, 2019. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a fresh Brexit showdown in parliament on Wednesday after a stinging defeat over his promise to get Britain out of the European Union at any cost next month. (Photo by JESSICA TAYLOR / UK PARLIAMENT / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT, SATIRICAL, ADVERTISING PURPOSES - MANDATORY CREDIT " AFP PHOTO / JESSICA TAYLOR / UK Parliament"JESSICA TAYLOR/AFP/Getty Images
Boris Johnson's position weakens in UK Parliament
02:41 - Source: CNN
Brussels CNN  — 

Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted that a no-deal Brexit must remain on the table in order to protect Britain’s negotiating position with Europe.

But the reality is, those negotiations are not going anywhere quickly.

At the G7 meeting of world leaders in France lasts month, the British Prime Minister had promised EU Council President Donald Tusk he would deliver a new set of proposals soon.

So it was with some surprise that EU officials, at the first of a series of twice-weekly sessions with UK negotiators this week, diplomats and officials told CNN the UK did not put forward any of the “concrete” ideas they had been promised. It was a waste of hours of preparation, they said.

“We don’t really know where the show is going and what the script is or what the finale is,” said one EU diplomat. “We are not optimistic and it’s getting serious.”

After five hours’ worth of technical talks on Wednesday, it seems that all the UK and EU agreed upon was to carry on meeting, leading to the sense in Brussels that Johnson is merely running the clock down to use the EU negotiations as a backdrop to an imminent election campaign.

The political crisis has inensified in Westminster.

Meanwhile in London, the political crisis has intensified. The brutal scenes in the House of Commons, during which the Prime Minister lost his majority and turfed out 21 loyal Conservatives, did not go down well with a bloc which prides itself of having brought harmony to post war Europe. Likewise, Johnson’s earlier decision to prorogue – or suspend- parliament early also raised eyebrows among those defending democracy on the EU’s eastern flank.

After briefing representatives of EU member states and the European Parliament, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiators, said the EU would remain “vigilant, united and calm.”

Philippe Lamberts, a Member of the European Parliament, was more forthright. “For all the PM’s bluster about getting a deal, there are no real negotiations going on in Brussels, despite the EU’s door remaining wide open,” said Lamberts, who is a member of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, which was briefed by Barnier this week.

As evidence of the trust deficit facing Johnson, particularly with regard to his insistence that both sides ditch the so-called Irish backstop and find another solution to the Irish border conundrum, Barnier cancelled a planned appearance in Belfast next week fearing it “would not be appropriate” and would “undermine the chances of an orderly Brexit.”

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier briefied the European parliament this week.

EU officials may have experienced some schadenfreude when they saw parliament seize control of the agenda from the government, passing a bill that would require Johnson to request another extension to the Brexit process.

But none of this will help the UK’s cause much at this late stage.

If anything, the scenes in Westminster and Brussels this week have made Britain appear a less stable, reliable partner – one which unless it has a good enough or “concrete” reasons cannot take for granted the EU will automatically grant it a last minute stay of execution for Brexit after all.

The EU knows it must give the appearance that its doors remain open, lest it be depicted as the bad guy in the Brexit fight. But there is a sense among member states that negotiating with Johnson is becoming increasingly futile, given he no longer has anything close to a majority in the UK parliament, which must approve any Brexit deal.

“What’s even the point?” asked one EU diplomat. “They can’t deliver.”