Boris Johnson's senior aides have ordered Conservative MPs to call the European Union "crazy" if it rejects the Brexit proposals tabled by the UK on Wednesday, an internal memo leaked to BuzzFeed News reveals.
In a special post-conference "lines to take" email sent to Tory MPs after Johnson's Europe adviser, David Frost, delivered the government's new offer to Brussels, the prime minister's aides made clear that they would seek to blame the EU if a deal could not be reached.
The memo acknowledged that the UK government is willing to negotiate further with the EU, contrary to briefings from Downing Street to journalists that Brussels would have to "take or leave it". The memo said: "We are obviously happy to negotiate details."
But the memo was adamant that Johnson will not move from his red line of keeping Northern Ireland inside the UK's customs territory and outside the EU's.
In a sign of the tough rhetoric that Johnson's government can be expected to use if talks with Brussels break down, MPs were told that if the EU refuses to negotiate on this point, then Conservatives should say that it is Brussels that ended talks, that a deal is "impossible", and that the EU's policy is "crazy".
"If the EU maintains the position that in effect Northern Ireland is never allowed to leave the Customs Union, then it is impossible to negotiate any deal – in which case there will be checks according to the Commission's own logic," the memo said.
"This will be seen by everybody as a crazy policy. We have offered a compromise to avoid this situation."
The UK's fresh proposals, published earlier on Wednesday, would see Northern Ireland stay aligned with EU regulations on all goods and agri-foods, while at the same time leaving the EU’s customs territory and tax regime, creating a customs border on the island of Ireland.
The UK’s plan would also see Northern Ireland's executive and assembly have a veto on the arrangements every four years.
The EU and the Republic of Ireland has been clear that they will not accept customs checks on or near the Irish border.
The memo lays out how Johnson's aides plan to blame the EU for the collapse of the negotiations:
"If the EU ends negotiations by rejecting this last chance for a fair and reasonable compromise, then the government will focus on preparing to leave on 31 October. The government will not negotiate a delay at the EU Council on 17-18 October. Government policy is to oppose any further delay which would be extremely damaging for democratic politics and the economy."
While the memo states that Johnson's government would refuse to negotiate a delay, it remains unclear how it could circumvent legislation passed by Parliament requiring the prime minister to seek an extension to Article 50 if a deal is not agreed by Oct. 19.
The email also suggests that Johnson's administration has found itself in its current predicament because of the policies of his predecessor, Theresa May.
"Lots could have been different but for the actions taken by the previous government that drove the country into a cul-de-sac," it said.