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POLITICAL

EU is in no mood to do Boris Johnson any favors

How seriously is Boris Johnson taking Brexit? Not very, is the view of a growing number of people.

From EU officials in Brussels to his political opposition in the UK, a sense is building that the British Prime Minister is treating Brexit as nothing more than a campaign issue for the "upcoming election," as senior government sources are now describing it.
That sense was underscored this week, after the PM found himself embroiled in a row over the language he used in the House of Commons.
    He dismissed concerns that his hardline Brexit rhetoric could incite violence against lawmakers as "humbug," and he doubled down on his view that attempts from opposition MPs to prevent a no-deal Brexit amounted to "surrender."
    How did this go down in Brussels? "The populist language stuff and attacking female Labour MPs is not exactly helpful if your primary aim is to get a deal through Parliament, is it?" one EU source told CNN.
    On Friday, the UK's Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, went to Brussels to meet his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier. As with so many of the government's meetings with EU officials, there were warm words, but nothing concrete.
    The UK has also been sending proposals to Brussels on alternative arrangements to the deal that Johnson's predecessor as PM, Theresa May, struck with the EU last year. These have also been met with polite smiles from Brussels. However, behind the smiles, frustration is turning to anger. "The papers they sent were empty. If he was serious, then he would have serious proposals and hordes of people over here. It's a sham negotiation," the source added.
    Why is this happening then, given the urgency of Brexit?
    It's no secret that Johnson wants to have an election as soon as possible. As things stand, his drive to deliver Brexit at all costs is playing well with the public, if his current opinion poll lead over the opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is anything to go by.
    However, that could all change if he is somehow forced to seek a delay to Brexit. So, a big public effort to present him as the man fighting tooth and nail to get the UK a deal, and deliver Brexit -- or, indeed, walk away from the EU without a deal next month -- is clearly something Johnson and his aides think will play well for them in the "upcoming" election.
    And it's here we come back to how seriously Johnson is trying to get a deal. "Brexit is a tool for Boris Johnson to win an election," an EU diplomatic source tells CNN. "We no longer believe he really wants a deal at this stage. We did earlier in the process. How can a British PM that campaigns on a 'surrender bill' be seen to compromise?"
    This view that Johnson's big talk on Brexit is designed to do nothing but widen divisions and lock down his base before an election is spread across the opposition benches. Labour lawmaker Wes Streeting thinks that it is a "deliberate and calculated strategy on behalf of the government to inflame tensions and increase hostility towards MPs." And Sam Gyimah, who left Johnson's Conservative party over its Brexit plans, said "it is deliberate ... Johnson is acting like a campaigner, not a Prime Minister."
    Johnson's supporters, of course, deny this charge. "It's complete nonsense. I've spoken to the PM and he is deadly serious about getting a deal. It's now up to the EU to demonstrate the same," says Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative party leader, and close Johnson ally. "Those who publicly say otherwise are the same people who seem to want to stop Brexit rather than make it work."