An­other Brexit meet­ing

Lead­ers don’t budge from op­pos­ing Ir­ish bor­der de­mands

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Front Page - COM­PILED BY DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE REPORTS In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Stephen Cas­tle of The New York Times; and by Jill Law­less, Raf Casert and Geir Moul­son of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son (left) wel­comes Euro­pean Par­lia­ment Pres­i­dent David Sas­soli at No. 10 Down­ing St. on Tues­day in Lon­don. The prospect of an exit deal be­tween Bri­tain and the EU ap­peared to grow even fainter Tues­day. More photos are avail­able at arkansason­line.com/109john­son

LON­DON — The prospect of a Brexit deal be­tween Bri­tain and the Euro­pean Union ap­peared fainter than ever Tues­day af­ter an early-morn­ing phone call be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son of Bri­tain and Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel of Ger­many un­der­scored the deep dif­fer­ences be­tween the two sides.

John­son has in­sisted that Bri­tain will leave at the end of the month, with or with­out an agree­ment, but an­other de­lay would buy time for a gen­eral elec­tion in Bri­tain and avoid the risk of a no-deal Brexit in just a few weeks’ time.

The phone call with Merkel on Tues­day ap­peared to dash whatever lim­ited hope re­mained of an agree­ment be­fore Oct. 31, af­ter the Ger­man chan­cel­lor made clear in the talks Tues­day that she could not agree to cen­tral el­e­ments of pro­pos­als made by John­son last week, ac­cord­ing to reports in the British news me­dia.

In a state­ment to British me­dia, Down­ing Street said Merkel had told John­son that “a deal is over­whelm­ingly un­likely” un­less the U.K. agreed to let North­ern Ire­land con­tinue to fol­low EU cus­toms rules in or­der to main­tain an open bor­der with EU mem­ber Ire­land.

That is some­thing the British govern­ment says it can’t ac­cept. Down­ing Street said that “if this rep­re­sents a new es­tab­lished po­si­tion, then it means a deal is es­sen­tially im­pos­si­ble not just now but ever.”

How peo­ple and goods will move across the Ir­ish bor­der is the main stick­ing point to a deal.

The Ger­man govern­ment con­firmed that Merkel and John­son had spo­ken but de­clined to com­ment on the sub­stance of “con­fi­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions.”

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion spokes­woman Mina An­dreeva said “the EU po­si­tion has not changed. We want a deal. We are work­ing for a deal with the U.K.”

Don­ald Tusk, head of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, said on Twit­ter that the British prime min­is­ter seemed more in­ter­ested in “win­ning some stupid blame game.”

“At stake is the fu­ture of Europe and the UK as well as the se­cu­rity and in­ter­ests of our peo­ple,” he said, ad­dress­ing John­son. “You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an ex­ten­sion, you don’t want to re­voke, quo vadis?” — a Latin phrase mean­ing “where are you go­ing?”

De­spite the grim mood, British of­fi­cials in­sisted they still hope to strike a deal be­fore Bri­tain’s sched­uled de­par­ture date.

“We’ve moved — it is now time for the EU to move, too,” said Michael Gove, the min­is­ter in charge of Brexit prepa­ra­tions. “If it does, then there is still ev­ery chance we can leave with a new deal.”

John­son has pledged to leave the Euro­pean Union at the end of the month, “come what may,” but a law re­cently passed by Par­lia­ment re­quires him to re­quest a third Brexit ex­ten­sion if he fails to reach an agree­ment that has the ap­proval of both the Euro­pean Union and the British Par­lia­ment.

Though British law­mak­ers have three times voted against a Brexit deal, most of them op­pose a no-deal Brexit be­cause of the widely held be­lief that it would be eco­nom­i­cally dis­as­trous for the coun­try.

The British govern­ment out­lined its lat­est prepa­ra­tions for that sce­nario Tues­day, amid warn­ings that leav­ing with­out an agree­ment could come with a po­ten­tially heavy cost to pub­lic fi­nances, and to busi­nesses that would face new ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­dens.

Ac­cord­ing to British of­fi­cials, Merkel out­lined se­ri­ous ob­jec­tions to John­son’s pro­pos­als on how to pre­vent checks on goods on the bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land, part of the United King­dom, and Ire­land, which will re­main part of the Euro­pean Union.

John­son has pro­posed keep­ing North­ern Ire­land largely un­der many of the EU’s rules for agri­cul­ture, and for prod­uct and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards for goods, so long as North­ern Ir­ish po­lit­i­cal par­ties back such an ap­proach.

But John­son wants to take North­ern Ire­land, along with the rest of the United King­dom, out of the EU’s trad­ing and cus­toms sys­tem. He ar­gues that, while some cus­toms checks will be nec­es­sary, they can be min­i­mized and take place well away from the bor­der.

That no­tion has been re­jected by the Ir­ish govern­ment in Dublin, and it also proved to be a stick­ing point for Merkel, ac­cord­ing to British of­fi­cials.

Down­ing Street said Tues­day that the only al­ter­na­tive the Euro­pean Union had sug­gested to John­son’s pro­posal was the so-called Ir­ish back­stop plan re­jected three times by Bri­tain’s Par­lia­ment. That would re­quire North­ern Ire­land to stay in Europe’s cus­toms union, per­haps in­def­i­nitely.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties in Bri­tain crit­i­cized the lat­est state­ments from Down­ing Street, ac­cus­ing of­fi­cials there of try­ing to mask what they said was John­son’s de­sire for a no-deal Brexit.

“Boris John­son will never take re­spon­si­bil­ity for his own fail­ure to put for­ward a cred­i­ble deal,” said Keir Starmer, who speaks for the op­po­si­tion La­bor Party on Brexit. “His strat­egy from day one has been for a nodeal Brexit.”

AP/FRANK AUGSTEIN

AP/AARON CHOWN

British Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son (right) talks with David Sas­soli, the pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, ahead of a pri­vate meet­ing Tues­day at No. 10 Down­ing St. in Lon­don. More photos are avail­able at arkansason­line.com/109john­son/

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