Britain’s Brexit minister Secretary Stephen Barclay is meeting the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday, only a day after the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker expressed the certainty that a deal is possible by October 31.
Mr Barnier has confirmed that he received on Wednesday evening a written submission from the British prime minister Boris Johnson outlining draft ideas for a fresh Withdrawal Agreement.
Downing Street referred to these documents as “confidential” and “technical,” while they are treated by Brussels as essentially a non-binding “non-paper.” At the same time, Barnier has also been consulting with members of the British opposition to gaze whether and how any deal in Brussels would have the chance of gaining approval by the British Parliament.
Finnish prime minister Antti Rinne has put pressure on his British counterpart to formally outline his plans for the UK’s exit by the end of September, “if they exist.” Rinnie made the statement to the Finnish press after consulting with President Emmanuel Macron of France on Wednesday. The British government has pushed back on the “artificial deadline” of September 30.
For his part, the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar has made clear that there was still a “big gap” between the UK and the bloc and told the BBC that the Republic cannot become “collateral damage” to Britain’s decision. The Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney has said that proposals seen in Brussels on the Irish border are not “credible.”
A French diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Boris Johnson should not hope to negotiate directly with European leaders at the Council on October 17-18 and time to iron out a deal is “running out.” This is a line held by both French President Emmanuel Macron German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Address business leaders in Spain on Thursday, Mr Barclay warned the EU against a rigid approach, urging for “creativity and flexibility,” acknowledging that the final details of an alternative to the Irish backstop may not need to be resolved until the end of 2020.
“The alternative to the backstop is not necessary until the end of the implementation period which is December 2020,” Barclay said, urging the EU not to risk the future relationship in November by insisting for a resolution by day 1 of Brexit.
Barclay also hinted that the EU may be less prepared for a no-deal Brexit than otherwise claimed, noting that Ireland’s food and medicine supplies may also be affected by tailbacks at Calais. “Two-thirds of Irish medicines come through Great Britain. 40% of its exports go through Dover,” Barclay said.
Most members of the House of Commons are opposed to a “no-deal Brexit” and have legislated against it. However, on the advice of the government, the Queen has prorogued the parliament while the UK’s Supreme Court is holding a final hearing on whether this suspension is legal. Boris Johnson’s opponents say the real reason he sought the suspension was to prevent parliament, a view echoed last week by a Scottish High Court.