John­son set for last-ditch talks as no deal looms

● EU sug­gests lit­tle hope of break­through as MPS pre­pare for spe­cial Satur­day sit­ting


Boris John­son meets his Ir­ish coun­ter­part Leo Varad­kar to­day for last­ditch talks to try to end the im­passe over Brexit, with EU lead­ers say­ing there is lit­tle hope of a break­through.

The Ir­ish govern­ment said the two prime min­is­ters would meet in the north-west of England for “de­tailed dis­cus­sions about the process for se­cur­ing agree­ment for a Brexit deal”.

Mr John­son tweeted: “Of course we’ve been ne­go­ti­at­ing with our friends and part­ners in the EU about Brexit and

I’m still cau­tiously, cau­tiously op­ti­mistic.”

But 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 on 17 and 18 Oc­to­ber, 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”.

Mean­while, govern­ment sources said that Mr John­son was plan­ning an emer­gency Satur­day sit­ting of Par­lia­ment fol­low­ing the sum­mit to be held on 19 Oc­to­ber.

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.”

Mr Barnier’s down­beat as­sess­ment was echoed by Mr Varad­kar, who said Mr John­son’s in­sis­tence that North­ern Ire­land must leave the cus­toms union with the rest of the UK re­mained an ob­sta­cle to progress.

“That’s their po­si­tion at the mo­ment and that’s one that is a great dif­fi­culty for us,” he told the Ir­ish par­lia­ment.

“As far as the Ir­ish govern­ment is con­cerned, we do want a deal, we’re will­ing to work hard to get a deal, to work un­til the last mo­ment to get a deal, but cer­tainly not at any cost.”

If Mr John­son is un­able to get an agree­ment, he will face a con­certed push for MPS to com­ply with the so-called Benn Act, re­quir­ing him to seek a fur­ther Brexit de­lay from Brus­sels – some­thing he has vowed not to do.

The prospects of an agree­ment were hang­ing in the bal­ance af­ter Down­ing Street ac­cused the EU on Tues­day of mak­ing it “es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble” for the UK to leave with a deal.

Fol­low­ing a heated tele­phone call be­tween Mr John­son and An­gela Merkel, No 10 sources said the Ger­man chan­cel­lor had made clear that a deal was “over­whelm­ingly un­likely”.

Mrs Merkel’s spokesman hit back yes­ter­day, in­sist­ing she would work “un­til the last pos­si­ble point” to se­cure an or­derly British with­drawal.

The spokesman said that she con­tin­ued to re­gard a no-deal Brexit as “the worst sce­nario for all con­cerned”.

Mean­while there was sus­pi­cion among some MPS over Mr John­son’s plans for an emer­gency Satur­day sit­ting of Par­lia­ment – some­thing which has only hap­pened four times in the past 80 years.

Pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions have in­cluded the out­break of the Sec­ond World War in 1939, the Suez cri­sis in 1956 and the in­va­sion of the Falk­lands in 1982.

For­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Do­minic Grieve ques­tioned why they could not wait un­til the Mon­day, and ex­pressed con­cern they were be­ing “ma­nip­u­lated” for “pro­pa­ganda” pur­poses.

“Down­ing Street has be­come a pro­pa­ganda depart­ment spew­ing out lies,” he told BBC Ra­dio 4’s The World at One.

“So firstly, it’s deeply cor­ro­sive of trust, and se­condly, you do have the im­pres­sion that you’re be­ing ma­nip­u­lated and it is very dan­ger­ous ac­tiv­ity.”

How­ever, Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn said it would be an op­por­tu­nity for Par­lia­ment to de­mand that the Prime Min­is­ter com­ply with the Benn Act.

Mr John­son has re­peat­edly said that while he will abide by the law, he will be tak­ing the UK out of the EU on Oc­to­ber 31, with or with­out a deal.

Speak­ing dur­ing a visit to a wind tur­bine fa­cil­ity in Southamp­ton, Mr Cor­byn said: “The idea that the Prime Min­is­ter will break the law yet again is some­thing that needs to be borne in mind here.”

0 Re­main sup­port­ers out­side the Court of Ses­sion, Ed­in­burgh, where judges have de­layed ruling on a le­gal bid aimed at forc­ing Boris John­son abide by the Benn Act and re­quest a Brexit ex­ten­sion

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