Boris Johnson to meet Juncker in first face-to-face Brexit talks
Boris Johnson will hold his first face-to-face talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, on Monday with the British prime minister claiming he “passionately” believes a Brexit deal is possible.
Over lunch of snails, salmon and cheese in Luxembourg, Mr Johnson will reiterate his insistence that Britain must leave the EU on October 31 and that he will reject any offer of extra time to seal a deal.
But the prime minister’s room for manoeuvre has been severely limited by MPs, who have legislated against a no-deal exit and have removed the prospect of a snap October election.
Although Mr Johnson likes to give the impression he can find a way around the political and legal obstacles to a no-deal exit on October 31, the focus in Luxembourg will be on seeking an agreement.
The prime minister is not expected to present a detailed British blueprint for a possible deal; foreign secretary Dominic Raab on Monday suggested it was too early in the talks and that it ran the risk of being immediately rejected.
But Mr Juncker and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator who will also attend the lunch, want to hear from Mr Johnson what broad ideas he has for resolving the issue of the backstop — the insurance policy against a hard border in Ireland.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph on Monday, Mr Johnson said he wants to “get this thing done” so that Britain can emerge from Brexit “on a brighter, more cheerful, more confident and global path”.
Mr Raab said that Mr Juncker already knew how far Britain could go when it came to ensuring a smooth border in Ireland — and protecting the integrity of the EU’s single market.
“The question is whether the EU has the will to meet us and get a deal good for both sides,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.
Mr Raab also played down comments by Brexit secretary Steve Barclay that there was “an option” to extend the standstill transition period until December 2022 “by mutual consent” with the EU.
The idea would allow more time to restore the Stormont power-sharing assembly in Belfast, which will play a role in overseeing any deal, and to put in place new technology at the border.
Mr Raab did not rule out a longer transition but said it was not being “countenanced” and that Brexit had already been delayed long enough.
Ahead of the meeting Mr Juncker told German paper Deutschlandfunk that reopening the divorce deal “will not be possible”.
He said he was still waiting for British alternatives to the backstop, adding: “I hope we can get them, but time is running out.” He said a no-deal Brexit would be “a hopeless mess and it would take years to put things right. Those who love their country — I assume there are still patriots in Britain — do not want to wish upon their country such a fate.”