Brexit: EU gives go-ahead for 'more intense' talks

Cheryl Sanders
October 11, 2019

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the two leaders said that agreeing on a deal "is in everybody's interest".

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar said Thursday they could see a "pathway" to reaching a Brexit deal after meeting for last-ditch talks, but remained cautious with just days left to strike an agreement.

Johnson said late Thursday there was a "pathway" to a belated agreement to stave off a chaotic and costly no-deal Brexit on October 31, while Varadkar said the meeting was "very positive".

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier is now meeting with Britain's Brexit minister Stephen Barclay in Brussels.

Education minister Gavin Williamson restated the government's line that Britain would leave the EU on October 31, come what may, telling ITV: "We need to see the European Union shift".

Johnson and Varadkar met at Thornton Manor, a venue more commonly used for luxury weddings than discussing worldwide divorce terms. And, in normal circumstances, European diplomats would want draft texts of any agreements to be prepared before close of business on Friday. "After that, it's a long road".

Johnson, the face of the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, made no further comment on the meeting with Varadkar.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday morning that "the United Kingdom has still not come forward with a workable, realistic proposal" but tempered that by saying that "even the slight chance (that a deal can be struck) must be used".

But he cautioned there could still be obstacles along the way in what has become a more than three-year game of high-stakes political snakes and ladders. Johnson has vowed Britain will end its five-decade membership of the European Union on October 31, with or without agreeing exit terms.

That is despite the so-called Benn Act - passed by MPs last month - demanding he request a delay to the Article 50 deadline from the European Union until January 2020 if a deal has not been agreed before 19 October.

Dublin will have to consent to any solution to the hardest Brexit riddle of all: how to prevent the British province of Northern Ireland becoming a backdoor into the EU's markets without having controls at the border. Johnson and Varadkar met at Thornton Manor, a venue more commonly used for luxury weddings than discussing global divorce terms.

BBC Brussels correspondent Adam Fleming said it was "not clear" how the forthcoming talks were going to be described, but "some form of intensified negotiations" would take place.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports Johnson's minority government, would have an effective veto on post-Brexit customs checks on the Irish border under proposals put forward by Johnson last week.

Northern Ireland's opt-in to the plan would be open to four-yearly review by the province's devolved assembly and executive. A free-flowing border is considered vital to maintaining peace in Northern Ireland, which was plagued by three decades of violence, largely brought to an end with the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.

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