Boris Johnson has arrived in Berlin to hold crunch talks with Angela Merkel as the EU closed ranks in opposition to his Brexit demands.

In his first European trip as prime minister, Mr Johnson attended a meeting with the German chancellor, where he was expected to spell out his commitment to taking the UK out of the EU on 31 October, with or without a deal.

It comes as Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney warned no deal was more likely than ever, a view echoed by the French government, according to diplomatic sources.

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Welcome to The Independent's politics liveblog, where we will be bringing you all the latest updates throughout the day.
 
Here is our front page, where Europe correspondent Jon Stone has written an essential write through of the day ahead.
 

Boris Johnson flies to the continent today and is set on a collision course with EU leaders after they rejected his demand to scrap the Irish backstop.

Brussels issued a damning dismissal of Mr Johnson’s call to scrap the policy, while Angela Merkel said a “practical solution” would have to be found without reopening the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May.

Mr Johnson had sent a letter to EU officials calling for the Irish border backstop to be removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement but presented no alternative to the policy.

The holidays are nearly over - and it's shaping up to be a busy few days for Boris Johnson.

The PM will be in Berlin later where he will discuss Brexit-related issues with the German premier Angela Merkel over dinner, before heading to Paris on Thursday to meet French president Emmanuel Macron.

On Saturday, Mr Johnson will be at the G7 summit where he will meet other world leaders including US president Donald Trump.

The meetings come as Mr Johnson has reiterated his opposition to the Northern Irish backstop, saying he will not support any withdrawal agreement that includes it.

Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, has insisted it is "entirely possible" for Mr Johnson to secure a Brexit deal, but removing the backstop offered the "only prospect of securing a deal".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He's (Mr Johnson) saying... he will negotiate energetically in the pursuit of a deal, he's very happy to sit down and to talk to EU leaders, but he's making clear that the backstop needs to be removed, that is the only prospect of securing a deal."

He added: "If we have a very credible option to leave on October 31... if we do that and we make clear to the EU that we want to secure a deal, we want to leave in an orderly way that works both for us and for our friends in the EU, but that the only way to do that is to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, remove the backstop."

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Boris Johnson will pull British officials and ministers out of most EU decision-making meetings from September as the government gears up for the Brexit deadline.

Civil servants and ministers will now only attend EU meetings where the UK has a significant national interest in the outcome, such as on security.

The move comes after the prime minister vowed to "unshackle" diplomats in Brussels to employ their talents elsewhere, as Whitehall braces for a looming no-deal departure from the EU.

Ex-culture minister Ed Vaizey has said Boris Johnson was "just going through the motions" with his visits to European capitals and was "hell-bent on getting no deal".

He said the "real onus now" was on parliament to show that it was willing to pass a Withdrawal Agreement, adding that talk of a government of national unity was "completely for the birds".

The Tory MP told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Well I'm not going to vote no confidence in the government. I will look at any measures that could prevent no-deal happening, but my challenge to my anti no-deal colleagues, and I totally respect their position and my position is where does that get us?

"Where does an extension get us? It delays it by six months to a year, it doesn't solve the problem."

Former German ambassador to the UK, Thomas Matussek warned there were "certain issues on which the EU cannot budge" and those who thought the EU might make eleventh hour concessions "might be in for a nasty surprise".

He told Today: "We cannot throw Ireland under the bus, what message would that send to other members of the EU family if we gave up that sort of loyalty and solidarity?"

Asked if the EU could make last-minute concessions to the UK over Brexit, he said: "Well I think this time it might be wrong because I think it's important if you try to put yourself into the shoes of your partner and the clear assessment of the interests of both sides indicate that there are certain issues on which the EU cannot budge and these are the four freedoms. So I think they might be in for a nasty surprise."

He added: "Of course if we see and listen to parliamentarians and to people who show more understanding of what Europe is, we think there might be a glimmer of hope, but I think they will continue keeping out of the internal British debate."

 

NEW: Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced an independent review into the £55bn HS2 project.

Led by former HS2 Ltd chairman Douglas Oakervee, the review will consider "whether and how HS2 should proceed", the Department for Transport said.

A final report will be sent to Mr Shapps with "oversight from the PM and Chancellor" by the autumn.

Mr Shapps said: "The prime minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits.

"That's why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2.

"Douglas Oakervee and his expert panel will consider all the evidence available, and provide the department with clear advice on the future of the project."

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Thousands of British firms will finally be given crucial paperwork that allows them to continue trading with the EU after a no-deal Brexit, but business groups have warned much more must be done to prevent companies going “off the cliff”.

After months of demands from businesses, more than 88,000 VAT-registered companies will be given a registration number in the next two weeks that allows EU customs authorities to identify them.

Without the paperwork, known as an Economic Operator Registration and Identification (EORI) number, UK firms would not be allowed to trade with the EU after 31 October.

More from our business correspondent Ben Chapman:

On the HS2 review, Grant Shapps has told Sky News that a "go or no go" decision on HS2 by the end of the year.

The transport secretary said: "Let's get the facts on the table.

"What I've said to Doug Okervee - who's undertaking this review - and what the prime minister has said too, is, 'Just give us the facts. Go and find out all the information that's out there. Give us exactly where we are up to, really genuinely what it would cost to complete this project, then we will know and we will be in a much better position to make the decision to go or no go by the end of the year."

Mr Shapps said he wanted a "blank sheet of paper" on HS2 and said he had brought in an expert to "get to the bottom of what is the right way forward".

Here is our breaking story:

 

Business leaders have raised concerns about potential further delays to HS2 rail project, following the announcement of a review by transport secretary Grant Shapps.

Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “For far too long businesses across the UK have had to cope with heavily congested Victorian-era railways – with passengers and freight traffic vying for priority. Businesses count the cost of this in delayed journeys, overcrowded trains, uncertain deliveries and unreliable services. 

“HS2’s importance goes far beyond train services. Its anticipated completion is already attracting investors and will continue to attract investment to surrounding areas, rejuvenate local economies and create opportunities for businesses across the supply chain. 

“While no project should have a blank cheque, business communities across the UK will be concerned about the potential for further delays to HS2. This review must work at pace with our business communities to improve and hone this crucial infrastructure project, which is so important to business confidence.” 

Norbert Röttgen, chair of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee and an Angela Merkel ally, has spelled out the opposition to Boris Johnson's Brexit demands in a stern tweet.
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Ireland's foreign affairs minister has said that a no-deal Brexit is much more likely now than it has ever been.

Speaking ahead of Boris Johnson's Europe trip this week, Simon Coveney said: "There is a consequence to the approach that the British government is taking and that consequence is that they are making a no-deal far more likely.

"There is a reason why Boris Johnson is visiting Berlin today and Paris tomorrow, to try to talk to EU leaders about finding a way forward.

"I think he will get a very consistent message from EU leaders that the negotiations over the last two to three years are not going to be abandoned now.

"We will try and find a way to give the reassurance and clarification that Boris Johnson needs to sell a deal.

"We will try and be imaginative about that and be helpful on that."

A new poll by Kantar has given the Tories a 14-point lead over Labour - in a major surge for Boris Johnson's party.
 
 
However, there are some questions about the methodology of the poll, laid out here by YouGov director Anthony Wells.
 

Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson‘s girlfriend, has reportedly been refused entry to the US for a planned visit.

She had applied for permission to enter the country in the next few days as part of her role at Oceana, an environmental group, but the request was blocked by American officials, the Daily Mail reported.

It could become a source of embarrassment for Mr Johnson, who is due to meet Donald Trump at the G7 summit in France at the weekend.

Ahead of Boris Johnson's meetings with the leaders of Germany and France, European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said: "It's normal that our member states meet and talk to one another.

"Beyond this, the EU27 have had from the outset - and continue to have now - one single, united position on Brexit matters."

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No10 is distancing itself from a story in The Sun, which claimed Boris Johnson was considering a plan for Ireland to temporarily diverge from EU rules so it can stay aligned with the UK to prevent a hard border.

The paper said: "The Sun has learned that Mr Johnson is ready to propose a new bilateral deal between London and Dublin to act as a bridge until stand-off border checks - dubbed ‘alternative arrangements’ – are ready.

"Under the new idea, Ireland would win a special dispensation from Brussels to diverge from EU rules temporarily so it can stay aligned with the UK.

"In turn, the London government would agree a common rule book on goods and standards with Dublin while the temporary arrangement lasts."

However the Sun's political editor suggests No10 did not deny the reports when he raised it initially.

 

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has announced her new top team after taking over the party last month.
 
Chuka Umunna, one of the party's new MPs, becomes foreign affairs spokesman, while Ed Davey, who challenged Swinson for the leadership, becomes shadow chancellor.
 
Sarah Wollaston, who recently defected to the party from The Independent Group, will attend cabinet, as will former health minister Norman Lamb. The MPs both chair select committees - health and science respectively.
 

Sir David Attenborough has said that many people are “fed up” with the European Union, and suggested a major political change like Brexit was inevitable.

The revered broadcaster said the EU may not have paid enough attention to member states’ concerns and had allowed itself to do things that “irritate” people.

More here:

Ex-Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has raised concerns that the HS2 review could lead to the project being scrapped.

The party's spokesman for the North said: “For the Conservatives to even suggest cancelling HS2 is a slap in the face for people living across the North. 

"HS2 is far from perfect. It needs to have greater transparency and accountability so the public know what’s happening with their money, but that does not mean the project should be consigned to the scrapheap.

“Building better infrastructure across the North is vital if we’re to rebalance our economy. HS2 is vital to do this. HS2 will benefit our economy, our planet and our roads and Liberal Democrats unequivocally support the project.”

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