Johnson, Juncker hold Brexit talks; no visible breakthrough
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed yesterday 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 Britain that an agreement is in sight.
“Yes, there is a good chance of a deal. Yes, I can see the shape of it,” Johnson said after the meeting.
European Union (EU) leaders are far more sceptical. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who also met Johnson Monday, said the British leader needed to “stop speaking and act.”
“We need more than just words,” he said. “We need a legally operable text to work on as soon as possible.”
The European Commission also 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.
“Such proposals have not yet been made,” the Commission said in a statement, adding that officials “will remain available to work 24/7”. Juncker said the meeting had been “friendly,” while Johnson’s Downing St office called it “constructive”.
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Johnson’s 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 UK Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay getting involved in the talks. Johnson says the UK will leave the EU on the scheduled date of October 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 UK, Johnson spokesman James Slack said Britain had “put forward workable solutions in a number of areas”.