Johnson Talks Up a Brexit Deal as He Heads for Juncker Meeting
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government sounded a more optimistic note on the likelihood of reaching a Brexit deal, even as he prepares to take a hard-line approach in his first negotiations with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday.
The premier wrote in a column in Monday’s Daily Telegraph that he believes he can still strike a deal with the EU -- which the government is working “flat out” to achieve -- and accused his opponents in Parliament of trying to “crush Brexit.”
Still, he will tell Juncker he won’t ask for a delay if the negotiations are fruitless, and will reject any extension if one is offered by the EU’s other 27 leaders at a summit next month, according to a senior official in the U.K. government.
“If we can make enough progress in the next few days, I intend to go to that crucial summit on Oct. 17, and finalize an agreement that will protect the interests of business and citizens on both sides of the Channel, and on both sides of the border in Ireland,” Johnson wrote. “I believe passionately that we can do it, and I believe that such an agreement is in the interests not just of the U.K. but also of our European friends.”
The prime minister will fly to Luxembourg on Monday for his first face-to-face meeting with Juncker, accompanied by officials including his senior aide David Frost and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay. They will discuss how to reach an agreement over a working lunch of snails, salmon and cheese.
Talks are still stalled on the contentious issue of the Irish border backstop, a policy intended to ensure there are no checks on goods crossing the U.K.’s land border with Ireland. On Sunday, two cabinet ministers reiterated Johnson’s desire for a deal, and talked up his chances of achieving that aim.
Barclay told Sky News’s “Ridge on Sunday” there is a “landing zone” for an accord, before suggesting in a later radio interview that the transition period after leaving could be extended beyond 2020 to sort out the issues relating to the backstop. Meanwhile Home Secretary Priti Patel said Johnson is fully committed to getting a deal and the machinery of government is focused on such a result.
Still, Juncker sounded less optimistic on a weekend radio interview as he expressed doubt that the U.K. leader will offer fresh and viable proposals on the Irish impasse. Juncker also said Britain would risk “utter chaos” that will take years to fix if Johnson proceeds with a threat to pull the nation out of the trade bloc without a deal on Oct. 31.
He may have reasons to worry. Johnson also signaled this weekend that he will ignore a new British law requiring him to ask the EU for Brexit to be postponed and prepare to fight his opponents in court.
The prime minister’s hardened stance dramatically raises the stakes in the U.K.’s political and constitutional crisis over its tortured exit from the EU. After voting to leave the trading bloc in 2016, the country is no closer to completing the divorce in a way that avoids the chaos of a sudden rupture without an agreement to soften the blow.
Under a law passed by Parliament this month, against Johnson’s wishes, the prime minister must write to the EU to seek an extension if an agreement has not been agreed on by Oct. 19 and Parliament hasn’t given consent to leaving without a deal. Johnson will refuse to write this letter, the senior government official said, and if no agreement is reached with EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Oct. 17-18, the government will pursue a no-deal Brexit.
“What on earth is the point of any further delay?” Johnson said in his column. “Let’s end the wrangling, get this thing done, and set this country on a brighter, more cheerful, more confident and more global path – and let’s come out of the EU on Oct. 31.”
Johnson will prepare to fight the legal challenge his opponents are likely to mount in court, immediately after the Oct. 19 deadline for seeking a delay, the official said. Opponents of a no-deal split are also likely to offer draft laws in Parliament aimed at canceling Brexit altogether and revoking the official notification that triggered the divorce proceedings, the official said.
That concern could help unlock support within his Conservative Party, with the Sunday Times reporting that hard-line Brexiteers have signaled they would be willing to vote for a deal if Johnson can win meaningful concessions on the Irish backstop.
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