LONDON: Britain on Sunday urged the EU to intensify talks over London’s latest Brexit proposals, as European leaders warned it must revise its plans within days in order to conclude a deal this month.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the bloc needed to show “creativity and flexibility” ahead of October 31 — when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to end the country’s 46 years of EU membership with or without an agreement.
With the EU asking for reworked proposals within days, French President Emmanuel Macron told Johnson in a phone call on Sunday that a crunch decision was looming fast.
An Elysee Palace spokesperson said Macron agreed that negotiations between EU top negotiator Michel Barnier’s team and British officials should continue in the coming days “to assess if an agreement is possible” by the end of the week.
Barclay reiterated that the ideas Johnson has formally submitted to Brussels were “a broad landing zone” and “intense negotiations” were now necessary.
“We’ve set out very serious proposals including compromise on our side,” he told the BBC.
“We do need to get into the intensive negotiations on the text to clarify what the deal is.” Barclay added the government was considering holding a parliamentary vote ahead of a make-or-break EU summit on October 17-18 to show Brussels the plans have MPs’ support.
But European leaders, who have reacted tepidly to the propositions and urged London to offer a revised, viable way forward, are yet to agree even to ramp up negotiations.
They reportedly balked at Britain’s request to keep initial discussions on the proposals going through the weekend, and they will resume on Monday, with time running out ahead of the summit.
“If the offer from the UK turns out to be a take-it-or-leave-it, it’s going to be very difficult,” Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins told the BBC on Sunday.
“It’s fully dependent on the will of Mr Johnson because from the European side, we’re always open and looking towards a deal.”
Johnson began phoning European leaders this weekend to sell his proposals, speaking with Macron Sunday following talks with Dutch Premier Mark Rutte on Saturday.
Rutte tweeted he had told Johnson “important questions remain about the British proposals” and “there is a lot of work to be done ahead” of the summit.
Barnier told an event in France Saturday that while an agreement was still possible it “will be very difficult to reach”.
The British leader is hoping the threat of a messy no-deal departure in less than three weeks could force the EU to compromise.
That is despite British MPs passing a law last month that requires him to seek another Brexit delay if he fails to secure an agreement by the end of the summit.
Barclay said Sunday that the government would comply with the legislation.
But in identical articles for two Brexit-backing British tabloids, Johnson insisted the country will leave the bloc later this month.
“They should be under no illusions or misapprehensions,” he wrote in the Sunday Express and the Sun on Sunday.
“There will be no more dither or delay. On October 31 we are going to get Brexit done.”
The British proposals submitted to Brussels Wednesday centre on how to manage the post-Brexit border between British province Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Johnson wants Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly — which has been suspended for almost three years — to vote every four years on whether to maintain EU rather than British regulations there.
He has also proposed the province leaves the EU’s customs union along with the rest of Britain, with required checks to rely on untried technology and carried out away from the sensitive border.
Brussels has said the plans “do not provide a basis for concluding an agreement”.
It sees the potential for rampant smuggling while Ireland is concerned hardline Northern Irish unionists would have an effective veto.
Barclay, who will travel to Amsterdam for Brexit talks, suggested Britain could be willing to consider alternative ways of meeting its aims.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2019