EU warns no-deal Brexit imminent if UK doesn’t get serious

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STRASBOURG, France, Sept 18, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – The European Union’s two top
officials handling troublesome Brexit negotiations warned Wednesday that the
risk of a no-deal exit looms large unless Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s
government offers concrete proposals.

“The risk of a no deal remains very real. That will maybe be the choice of
the United Kingdom but never the choice of the European Union,” European
Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament in
Strasbourg.

The warning came two days after Juncker and British Prime Minister Boris
Johnson met in Luxembourg for talks, just six weeks before Britain is set to
exit the bloc.

That trip ended in humiliation for Johnson after he avoided what was meant
to be a joint press conference with his Luxembourg counterpart, put-off by a
small anti-Brexit protest nearby.

Juncker emphasised the UK still has not offered any viable solutions to
rewrite a withdrawal agreement struck by Johnson’s predecessor but rejected
three times by the British parliament.

Juncker said “I am not sure” that a new deal would be reached.

“We have very little time left. But I am sure we must try,” said the EU
leader, whose mandate ends on October 31 — the deadline for Britain to leave
the EU.

– Blame game –

The strident message parallelled stepped-up moves by Brussels and London
to hand out blame for a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

The EU’s pointman in the negotiations, Michel Barnier, told MEPs in
Strasbourg that “it is certainly not a question of pretending to negotiate”.

He added that “it is our responsibility to pursue this process with
determination, with sincerity.”

His words were taken as a dig at Johnson, who is seen by many in Brussels
and London as running down the clock to have Britain exit the EU “with or
without” a new deal.

If so, Johnson risks falling foul of a law hastily passed by the UK
parliament requiring him to ask for another Brexit delay — a third — by
October 19 if no new deal is worked out with the EU.

Britain’s parliament is currently suspended at Johnson’s initiative in a
move being challenged in the country’s Supreme Court.

EU leaders are to hold a summit on October 17-18, seen as the last chance
to strike a deal.

– Bogged down in the backstop –

The thorniest issue in the talks between Britain and the EU is that of the
“backstop” — an effort to guarantee that no border will spring up between EU
member Ireland and the UK’s province of Northern Ireland while ensuring that
the EU’s single market will be protected.

Under the withdrawal deal reached last year, the UK was to stay in the
EU’s customs union temporarily, in case talks towards a trade deal failed.

But Johnson rejects the guarantee and is reportedly exploring ways that
Northern Ireland alone could abide by EU agriculture and food standards
without a full-fledged backstop.

“The new British government… has underlined the backstop aspects it
doesn’t like. That is not enough to reach a solution,” Barnier said in
Strasbourg.

“We need to find a legally operational solution in the withdrawal
agreement that fully answers each of the problems, addresses each of the
risks,” he said.

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