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UK appeals to EU leaders to engage on Brexit deal

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Via Financial Times

The UK on Monday appealed to European leaders to show “greater engagement” with Britain’s proposal for a new Brexit deal, as Boris Johnson struggles to persuade the bloc to enter detailed negotiations.

A Downing Street spokesman admitted there were no immediate plans for face-to-face meetings between the prime minister and his EU counterparts this week.

On Monday, Mr Johnson will hold phone conversations with his counterparts in Denmark, Sweden and Poland.

But it had been expected that Mr Johnson would embark on a tour of European capitals in the run-up to an EU leaders’ summit on October 17-18 where the prime minister was hoping to finalise a new withdrawal agreement.

The European Commission said on Friday that Mr Johnson’s new Brexit proposal did not provide the basis for concluding an agreement. The UK is under pressure to make fresh concessions if detailed negotiations on a deal are to get under way.

The Downing Street spokesman said the EU had seen the publication of Mr Johnson’s proposal last week as a “step forward”, adding there were ongoing talks with the bloc.

“But we need those talks to take place at pace and need greater engagement with the compromises we have put forward,” he said.

David Frost, Mr Johnson’s Brexit negotiator, is due to hold talks in Brussels on Monday with the team of Michel Barnier, his EU counterpart.

Mr Johnson’s proposal seeks to resolve the vexed question of the Irish border that was at the centre of parliament’s rejection of the withdrawal agreement finalised by his predecessor, Theresa May, and the EU.

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He wants to scrap the so-called backstop in the agreement under which a hard Irish border would be averted by the UK staying in a customs union with the EU, because of concerns it could tie Britain into close ties with the bloc.

Mr Johnson held out as a compromise his proposal that Northern Ireland be aligned with EU single market rules after Brexit, but the region would leave the bloc’s customs union.

The EU has serious concerns about Mr Johnson’s proposal for a customs border involving checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, because it fears this could damage the bloc’s single market and the Good Friday peace agreement.

It also has objections to how Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly would vote every four years on whether to stay aligned with EU rules, because this could give a de facto veto to the region’s Democratic Unionist Party.

Stef Blok, the Dutch foreign minister, said on Monday after a meeting with UK Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay that the EU wanted more “realism and clarity” from Britain.

The Downing Street spokesman responded by saying: “We are ready to talk with the EU . . . and build a new partnership between the UK and the EU, but if this is to be possible the EU must match the compromises that the UK has made.”

Mr Johnson insisted on Sunday that the UK would leave the bloc without an agreement if necessary on Halloween, even though MPs passed legislation last month that seeks to avert a no-deal Brexit on October 31.

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