Boris Johnson claimed a no-deal Brexit would be “wonderful” as the EU agreed it was now the most likely outcome and the bloc’s leaders refused to take the prime minister’s phone calls.
With just two days left for a breakthrough, relations between the two sides instead appeared to be deteriorating as they remained far apart on the flashpoints of fair competition rules and fishing rights.
In Brussels, the prime minister was strongly criticised for attempting to bypass the European Commission by offering to fly to Paris and Berlin for talks with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel.
It was revealed that both the French president and German chancellor had also snubbed him by refusing a three-way call on Monday – and Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, lashed out at the tactic.
“I would like to invite him to stay in London and work hard. Capitals don’t negotiate, [Michel] Barnier does, and he has our full support,” Mr Rutte said at an EU summit.
He also made clear the looming divorce was not the EU’s number one concern – as the bloc agreed tougher climate emergency targets. A Brexit discussion at the summit had lasted only eight minutes, he said.
Visiting the northeast, Mr Johnson ignored official forecasts that a no-deal Brexit will swipe £40bn from the UK economy, putting 300,000 people out of work, and warnings of higher food prices.
Describing the outcome as now very, very likely having dismissed the chances as a million-to-one against last year he said it was a solution that I think would be wonderful for the UK.
The gloomy picture leaves Mr Barnier, the EU chief negotiator, and his UK counterpart David Frost until only Sunday to somehow bridge the divide between them.
Then, Mr Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, will speak again – and pull up stumps on the negotiations if they believe there is no prospect of them succeeding.
Despite a few senior Tory MPs expressing alarm, the vast majority are believed to be fully behind a no-deal Brexit if necessary. Many are eager for it, blaming the EU for the impasse.
The UK would then have to decide whether to accept the mini-deals proposed by Brussels to keep planes in the air and lorries with food and medicines rolling but at the price of the competition rules the EU is demanding.
There is a real risk of clashes in the Channel over fish, where the UK is already bolstering its defences with four royal navy ships as the EU seeks continued access to the stocks-rich waters.
Mr Macron, under pressure from French fishermen, said he would not give up his share of those fish, after the one-year standstill plan was put forward and rejected by London.
I’m not asking to have my cake and eat it, no. All I want is a cake that’s worth its weight. Because I won’t give up my share of it either, he said.
Ms Von der Leyen warned the two sides remain apart on fundamental issues, but argued London was wrong to see so-called level playing field rules to prevent the UK undercutting the EU as an attack on its sovereignty.