Still no basis for a Brexit deal, says Michel Barnier
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said there is still no basis for a deal on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
Ahead of next week’s crucial EU summit, Mr Barnier said they had yet to see any “operational, legally binding solution” to the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.
Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, he said Boris Johnson’s proposals to avoid the return of a hard border with the Irish Republic were based on a system “that hasn’t been properly developed, that hasn’t been tested”.
Mr Johnson’s hopes of securing a deal in time for the summit on October 17 and 18 could now rest on a crunch meeting with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar.
Following a 40-minute telephone conversation on Tuesday, the two men said they hoped to meet face-to-face this week – although details have yet to be announced.
Earlier, Government sources said that Mr Johnson was planning an emergency Saturday sitting of Parliament following the summit to be held on October 19.
It is thought the Prime Minister could use the occasion to force a showdown with MPs determined to block a no-deal Brexit.
In his address to MEPs, Mr Barnier said the EU side would continue to work in a “calm” and “constructive” manner to try to find an agreement.
But he made clear that Mr Johnson’s blueprint – which would require the return of customs checks on the island of Ireland – was not the basis for a solution.
“To put things very frankly, though, and to try and be objective, (at) this particular point, we are not really in a position where we are able to find an agreement,” he said.
“The proposal of the British Government as things stand is not something we can accept. It replaces an operational, practical, legal solution with one that is simply a temporary solution.”
Following a series of acrimonious exchanges between London and Brussels on Tuesday, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told the parliament that they would not get drawn into a “blame game”.
“Personally I don’t exclude a deal. We are, Michel and myself, working on a deal. And we are not accepting this blame game which started in London,” he said.
“We will see in the next coming days how things will develop.”