EU, UK bid to save Brexit talks before key summit

12 October, 2019 12:00 AM printer

BRUSSELS: British and EU negotiators met Friday in a last-ditch bid to restart talks on an orderly Brexit, amid “promising signals” that a deal could still be possible just days before a key EU summit, reports AFP.

British minister Stephen Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier met for two hours behind closed doors in the Brussels headquarters of the European Union, one day after talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar.

As they met, the president of the European Council and host of next week’s Brussels summit Donald Tusk warned that Britain has yet to come forward with a “workable, realistic proposal” for a Brexit deal.

“A week ago I told Prime Minister Johnson that if there was no such proposal by today, I would announce publicly that there are no more chances, because of objective reasons, for a deal during the incoming European Council,” he said.

“However, yesterday, when the Irish taoiseach and the UK prime minister met they both saw, for the first time, a pathway to a deal. I have received promising signals from the taoiseach that a deal is still possible,” Tusk said, during a trip to Cyprus.

“Technical talks are taking place in Brussels as we speak. Of course, there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up. But even the slightest chance must be used,” he warned.

The key sticking point in the Brexit negotiations is the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, with time running out ahead of Britain’s scheduled departure in barely three weeks.

Barclay and Barnier made no immediate statements after their meeting.

But the Brussels breakfast came after a meeting in northwest England on Thursday, where Johnson and Varadkar said they had “agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal”.

Speaking to reporters, Varadkar later said the meeting was “very positive”, suggesting it would be a “short pathway, rather than a long one”.

The European Council summit starts on October 17 next week and, in normal circumstances, European diplomats would want draft texts of any agreements to be prepared before close of business on Friday.

Even if, as UK officials hope, Brussels shows flexibility on the timeline, they have yet to enter the “diplomatic tunnel” of final text negotiations.

After his “stock taking” breakfast with Barclay, Barnier will brief ambassadors from the other EU members on the state of play. “Barnier will have to say whether we can or can’t start negotiating a text,” a European source told AFP.

“After that, it’s a long road. It’s wacky to think we’d have a treaty text before the October 17 and 18 summit.”

But Varadkar appears to be looking slightly further forward, implying that he and Johnson are now aiming for a deal in the next three weeks.

“I think it’s possible for us to come to an agreement, to have a treaty agreed... by the end of October,” he said.

But he cautioned there could still be obstacles along the way, after a more than three-year game of high-stakes political snakes and ladders.

“There’s many a slip between cup and lip,” he warned.

Johnson has vowed Britain will end its five-decade membership of the EU on October 31, with or without agreeing exit terms.