EU nations say Brexit talks likely to go beyond summit
LONDON (AP) — Brexit divorce talks in Brussels are making such slow progress that three European Union nations predicted Monday the negotiations could spill beyond this week’s crucial Brexit summit.
Belying the need for speed across the Channel, Britain trotted out a horse-drawn carriage and a diamond-encrusted crown so the queen could read out the government’s post-Brexit plans to Parliament.
In terms of historical importance, the painstaking paragraph-by-paragraph talks at the EU’s glass-andsteel Berlaymont headquarters seriously outweighed the regal ritual in which an ermine-draped monarch delivered a speech on the priorities of a Conservative Party government that could be out of office within weeks.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31, and an EU summit on Thursday or Friday was long considered one of the last possible chances to approve a divorce agreement to accommodate that timeframe.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists the country will leave at the end of the month with or without a deal, something the queen reiterated Monday.
“My government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on the 31st of October,” the 93-year-old queen said in a speech to Parliament that was written for her by the government.
It remains to be seen whether Johnson will achieve that goal.
Ireland, Finland and Spain all said the Brexit negotiations could well go beyond this week and go right down to the wire at the end of the month.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said late Monday it was “too early to say if it is possible to get a breakthrough this week or whether it will move into next week.”
Antti Rinne, prime minister of Finland, which currently holds the EU presidency, said in Helsinki that he had given up hope for a quick breakthrough ahead of the Brexit summit.
“There is no time in a practical way, and in legal base, to reach an agreement before the meeting,” Rinne said. “We need to have more time.”
At the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told The Associated Press that the Brexit talks were following a well-traveled path.
“You know, in Europe, we always take decisions on the edge of the precipice, on the edge of the cliff,” he said. “Even when the last minute comes, then we stop the watch and say that we need technically more time to fulfill all the requirements, all the last-minute requirements.”
Technical teams from Britain and the EU worked through the weekend and Monday, but both sides said significant gaps remained between their positions.
The discussions centered on future border arrangements between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. Johnson has put forward a complex proposal to eliminate the need for customs checks, but EU officials say more work is needed.
An EU diplomat familiar with the talks said there probably needed to be a three-month extension for the Brexit deadline to turn the British proposals into a legally binding deal.
“There are big problems remaining to counter smuggling and fraud because the British outlines are still that vague,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are still in progress.
In London, the queen delivered a speech outlining an ambitious — and critics say undeliverable — legislative program for Johnson’s government.