Britain’s Boris Johnson said on Monday (16 September) that a Brexit deal was beginning to emerge, but the EU said he offered nothing to break the impasse during a visit to Luxembourg where he was harangued loudly by protesters and rebuked for trying to shift the blame,write Foo Yun Chee, Elizabeth Piper of Reuters.
“Don’t make the EU the bad guy,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said after a meeting with Johnson, describing the uncertainty over the timing and conditions of Britain’s exit from the European Union as a “nightmare”.
The British prime minister joined European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for lunch at the Bouquet Garni restaurant, an 18th-century building of bare stone walls and low ceilings in the medieval heart of Luxembourg.
Brexit talks with EU to intensify, PM Johnson rules out exit delay
EU's Juncker to PM Johnson: Britain must make proposals to replace backstop
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A British official said their lunch included pan-cooked chicken oysters and butter-roasted pollock with creamy risotto.
Johnson was heckled from start of his visit with dozens of Britons - many of them retirees living in Luxembourg - booing, chanting and holding banners outside the restaurant.
The crowd and the booing swelled when he went on to meet Bettel, where at least 50 protesters waiting behind the gates created a scene that seemed out of place in the usually sedate centre of Luxembourg.
There were chants of “Fascist!”, “Stop the coup! Tell the truth!” and “Shame on Boris”, and the protesters played bursts of music that included the EU’s “Ode to Joy” anthem and “I can’t get no satisfaction”.
Johnson was due to address journalists alongside Bettel in the courtyard after their meeting but left straight away, saying later that it wouldn’t have been fair on the Luxembourg prime minister to hold a news conference amid a din of protests.
With less than seven weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU, Johnson has yet to reach an agreement with Brussels on how to manage the separation between the world’s fifth-largest economy and its biggest trading partner.
“STOP SPEAKING - ACT”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shakes hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during a meeting in Luxembourg, September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Johnson is hoping a Brexit deal can be clinched at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18.
“Yes, there is a good chance of a deal, yes I can see the shape of it, everybody can see roughly what could be done,” he told reporters after his Luxembourg meetings.
However, the European Commission said London had still not proposed an alternative to the Irish backstop that has stymied a deal on Britain’s exit from the EU, giving a more downbeat read-out of the meeting between Juncker and Johnson.
Johnson reiterated that Britain would leave the European Union on its Oct. 31 divorce date, deal or no deal, and would not request a delay.
However, his office said it had been agreed at the Luxembourg lunch that talks to find a deal would intensify.
Negotiations would be raised to a political level - between EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Britain’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay - from the technical-level talks of recent weeks, and meetings would take place daily.
The future of the land border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland is the central issue of disagreement both between Johnson and the EU and between him and British lawmakers. Britain’s parliament three times rejected a deal negotiated by his predecessor Theresa May which included the so-called backstop mechanism to keep the border open.
Juncker told Johnson over lunch that he must present workable proposals to replace the Brexit backstop.
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“President Juncker recalled that it is the UK’s responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement,” the European Commission said in a statement, referring to the deal struck by May. “Such proposals have not yet been made.”
Bettel took a harsher line in his remarks after escorting Johnson out, urging the British prime minister to “stop speaking and act” and to stop trying to pass the blame to the EU for the consequences of a decision taken by the British people in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“Our people need to know what is going to happen to them in six weeks time. They need clarity, they need certainty and they need stability. You can’t hold their future hostage for party political gains,” he said to applause and loud cheers from the protesters.
“So now it’s on Mr Johnson, he holds the future of all the UK citizens and every EU citizen living in the UK in his hands. It’s his responsibility. Your people, our people count on you. But the clock is ticking - use your time wisely.”
Britain must implement the Withdrawal Agreement on its exit from the European Union, regardless of the outcome of ongoing trade talks between the two sides, a senior European commissioner said on Wednesday (21 October),writes Kate Abnett.
“Deal or no deal, the Withdrawal Agreement must be respected,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic (pictured) told the European Parliament.
Sefcovic said the EU is committed to reaching a deal on the trade agreement and other aspects of their future relationship, but that the two sides remain “far apart” on the issues of fisheries and the so-called level playing field of fair competition.
“Our objective is still to reach an agreement that will pave the way for a new fruitful relationship between the EU and UK. We will continue to work for such an agreement, but not at any price,” he said.
The European Union’s Brexit negotiator said on Wednesday (21 October) that a new trade deal with Britain was “within reach” if both sides work hard to overcome the sticking points in the coming days,write Gabriela Baczynska and Marine Strauss.
“An agreement is within reach if both sides are willing to work constructively, compromise and working to make progress on the basis of legal texts and if we are able in the coming days to resolve the sticking points,” Michel Barnier said.
“Time is of essence... Along with our British counterparts, we must find solutions to the most difficult areas.”
Britain has sovereign choices to make on Brexit and they will determine its future access to the EU’s internal market, the chairman of the bloc’s leaders said on Wednesday, stressing it was now up to London to break an impasse in trade negotiations,write Gabriela Baczynska and Luzette Strauss.
A frustrated European Union and piqued Britain both exhorted each other on Tuesday to compromise to avoid a fast-approaching disruptive finale to the five-year Brexit drama that would add to economic pain from the coronavirus crisis.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator, however, also said on Wednesday a deal was still possible before the end of the year, when Britain’s current trading terms expire and when commerce free of tariffs and quotas can no longer be guaranteed.
“Time is very short and we stand ready to negotiate 24/7, on all subjects, on legal texts. The UK has a bit of a decision to make and it’s their free and sovereign choice,” European Council President Charles Michel told the European Parliament.
“Their sovereign answer will determine the level of access to our internal market, this is just common sense.”
Michel said the 27 EU members were equally ready for an abrupt split in trading ties at the end of the year without a new partnership agreement to avoid tariffs or quotas from 2021.
“Brexit means Brexit, as (former British prime minister) Theresa May used to say. But Brexit also means making choices about our future relationship,” said Michel, listing the three sticking points in the trade negotiations: fishing rights, the settlement of disputes and economic fair play.
“We don’t need words, we need guarantees,” he said of the so-called level playing field guarantees for fair competition. “Do our British friends want to regulate state aid and uphold high medical standards? If so, why not commit to them.”
On ways to solve any future trade disputes, Michel pressed for agreeing on a “binding, independent arbitration” that would be able to redress any market distortions swiftly.
Michel said London’s draft new Internal Market Bill - which, if adopted, would undermine Birtain’s earlier divorce deal with the EU - only solidified the bloc’s belief that it needed tight policing of any new deal with the United Kingdom.
“Brexit was not our decision and it was not our fishermen’s decision,” said Michel, adding that losing access to the UK’s waters would inflict “extraordinary damage” on EU industry.
The EU is therefore seeking continued mutual access to UK fishing waters and sharing out catch quotas, just as London wants continued access to the bloc’s market of 450 million consumers for its companies, he said.
“But the UK wants access to the single market while at the same time being able to diverge from our standards and regulations when it suits them. You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Michel told EU lawmakers.
With some €900 billion of annual trade at stake in the troubled talks, the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the same plenary session an agreement was “within reach” if both sides worked constructively.
“Time is of the essence... Along with our British counterparts, we must find solutions to the most difficult areas,” Barnier said, in comments that pushed sterling higher on foreign exchange markets.