Brexit talks go down to the wire ahead of European Union summit

Nellie Chapman
October 19, 2019

The future of the UK's departure from the European Union and Boris Johnson's premiership could be hanging in the balance as the prime minister pushes for a deal before an European Union leaders' summit on Thursday.

But he warned there are still numerous hurdles in the way, after speaking with Mr Johnson and the European Commission on Wednesday morning.

French President Emmanuel Macron said an agreement was being finalised and hoped it could be approved on Thursday.

She added that the DUP had always said Northern Ireland must be "integrally within the UK" and dismissed some speculation around a Brexit deal as "so far off of the mark you can't see the mark anymore".

On Monday, Irish deputy premier Simon Coveney raised hopes on an agreement being reached before the European Union summit by saying a deal could possibly be achieved as soon as this week.

If Johnson fails to nail down the terms of Britain's exit from the European Union, or fails to get a deal ratified in the United Kingdom house, he will nearly certainly have to seek a longer extension of the departure date more than three years after the country voted in a referendum to leave.

Johnson told his cabinet there was "a chance of securing a good deal but we are not there yet and there remain outstanding issues", a Downing Street spokesman said.

Former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson was exasperated by the EU's demand for the United Kingdom to give further ground.

The UK government has confirmed that the all-important draft texts for the political declaration required to complete a Brexit agreement have been submitted to Brussels for approval, with time running out to seal a deal.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday seemed to rule out voting for the deal - even if it was to be put to the country in a referendum.

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At a meeting in Luxembourg, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier is understood to have told representatives that his job is to negotiate with the UK Government and not the Parliament.

The conundrum was how to prevent the frontier becoming a backdoor into the EU's single market without erecting checkpoints that could undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of conflict in the province.

Johnson won the top job by pledging to renegotiate May's agreement, though he is reviving the bulk of it now, with changes to the protocol on how to treat the border between European Union member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

But Johnson may struggle to convince hardline Conservative eurosceptic MPs and his allies from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to accept this.

"Let's get Brexit done, so we can take back control of our money, our borders and our laws", Johnson said.

There may also be opposition to the deal from Brexit hardliners within Johnson's own party.

He also said Prime Minister Boris Johnson would meet the undertakings given to a Scottish court earlier this month, when the government's top legal officer in Scotland gave assurances the government would fully comply with a law which requires Johnson to request a delay to Brexit if no deal is reached by October 19.

"October 31 is still a few weeks away and there is the possibility of an additional summit before that if we need one ..."

"When I hear talk of a Northern Ireland backstop I think things are very far off the mark", she said before meeting Mr Johnson.

Sterling was on a roller coaster ride through the day as varying reports suggested a deal was nigh or pointed to last-minute hurdles.

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