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EU's Barnier Says Brexit Deal 'Very Difficult, But Possible'

Wed, 9th Oct 2019 17:52

(Alliance News)  - Britain and the EU are not on track to strike a Brexit deal at present, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said Wednesday, while adding that an agreement was still "possible" if both sides show goodwill.

Barnier identified "three major problems" with proposals presented by London to overcome the thorny Irish border issue. He is due Thursday to meet with his British counterpart Stephen Barclay, a week ahead of an EU summit at which both sides had hoped to conclude a deal.

UK British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to pull the country out of the EU on October 31, come what may, despite legislation that compels him to request an extension if he fails to strike a deal.

The efforts to finalize an agreement smoothing Britain's departure from the EU risk foundering over measures aimed at keeping open the border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.

Johnson is due to hold talks on Thursday with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. EU member states will take stock of progress on Friday. If there is little movement, they are likely to prepare for the possibility of a new Brexit delay.

Last week, Johnson submitted proposals for an alternative to the Irish backstop arrangements that form part of the existing withdrawal deal, but EU officials remain unconvinced, following several rounds of technical talks in Brussels in recent days.

The three problems relate to: an absence of credible goods checks along the Irish border under Britain's plan; the need for a legally binding, operational solution; and the wish to hand power of consent to the Northern Irish assembly, which could reject the arrangement, Barnier said Thursday.

"The British government proposal, as it is today, and which we cannot accept, would replace an operational, practical, legal solution with a hypothetical and provisional solution," he told the European Parliament.

"I don't exclude a deal," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the parliament's plenary session, noting that work on this was ongoing. "We are not accepting this blame game which started in London," he added.

On Tuesday, the British government reportedly accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of considering a deal to be "overwhelmingly unlikely," following a telephone conversation between her Johnson.

European Council President Donald Tusk later told the British premier via Twitter that "what's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game," but rather the future of Europe and Britain.

Meanwhile Wednesday, British Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that two million EU citizens living in Britain have applied to a settlement scheme aimed at making it easy for them to stay on in the country after Brexit.

Around 3.5 million EU citizens live in Britain and it is unclear what will happen to those who do not register under the scheme by the June 2021 deadline.

By Helen Maguire, dpa

Copyright dpa

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