Tue | Oct 22, 2019

Johnson, Juncker hold Brexit talks

Published:Monday | September 16, 2019 | 9:10 AM
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (centre) speaks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) after a meeting in Luxembourg, Monday, September 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

LUXEMBOURG (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed Monday to ramp up talks on securing an elusive Brexit deal, but the two sides gave starkly different assessments of how far apart they are.

The two men held their first face-to-face talks over a two-hour lunch in Juncker’s native Luxembourg amid claims from the U.K. — though not from the EU — that an agreement is in sight.

Johnson’s Downing St. office said “the leaders agreed that the discussions needed to intensify and that meetings would soon take place on a daily basis,” with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and U.K. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay getting involved in the talks.

Downing St. called Monday’s meeting “constructive.”

The European Commission, however, said Britain had yet to offer any “legally operational” solutions to the problem of keeping goods and people flowing freely across the Irish border, the main roadblock to a deal.

“President Juncker underlined the Commission’s continued willingness and openness to examine whether such proposals meet the objectives of the backstop”— the Irish border provision rejected by British lawmakers.

“Such proposals have not yet been made,” the European Commission said, adding that officials “will remain available to work 24/7.”

Johnson says the U.K. will leave the EU on the scheduled date of Oct. 31 with or without a Brexit divorce deal.

But he insists he can strike a revised agreement with the bloc in time for an orderly departure. The agreement made by his predecessor, Theresa May, was rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament, prompting her to resign.

Johnson said in a Daily Telegraph column Monday that he believes “passionately” that a deal can be agreed and approved at a summit of EU leaders on October 17-18.

While the EU says it is still waiting for firm proposals from the U.K., Johnson spokesman James Slack said Britain had “put forward workable solutions in a number of areas.”

He declined to elaborate, saying it was unhelpful to negotiate in public.

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