Despite having only days to bridge wide divisions over Brexit, the European Union maintained a semblance of hope Wednesday that the acrimonious fight over Britain’s departure from the bloc could somehow still be settled amicably.
Across the European Parliament, voices resonated with frustration that one of the most important events for both the EU and the U.K. in decades had turned into a tone-deaf dialogue only three weeks ahead of Britain’s planned Oct. 31 departure.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was working together with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on a last-gasp solution.
“Personally, I don’t exclude a deal. Michel and myself are working on a deal,” Juncker said.
He refused to be more specific but made clear that Brexit talks between the two sides haven’t come to an irreparable standstill.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal. The British parliament has demanded that Johnson ask for an extention from the EU if he can’t get a Brexit deal. If Britain did leave, it would be the first EU nation to exit the bloc, ending almost half a century of U.K. membership that brought economic and diplomatic clout to both sides.
For now, Juncker insisted Johnson needed to stop pouring all the blame on the EU for the negotiating standstill over Brexit.
“We are not accepting this blame game that started in London,” he said.
Johnson, who took office in July after British lawmakers rejected the Brexit deal of his predecessor Theresa May three times, delivered his own Brexit proposals to the bloc last week. Britain is seeking to renegotiate the Brexit divorce deal to make sure there is no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland.
Barnier, however, said those ideas were fundamentally flawed in how they handled the land border on the island of Ireland and also rejected giving regional authorities in Northern Ireland a veto on how to proceed.
Johnson’s proposals crossed so many of the EU’s red lines, Barnier said, Johnson would need to fundamentally revamp his proposals, something the British leader has said he will not do.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said Ireland can’t accept a Brexit deal at any cost.
“It’s going to be very difficult to secure an agreement by next week, quite frankly,” Varadkar told Irish broadcaster RTE late Tuesday after a 40-minute phone call with Johnson.
“Essentially what the United Kingdom has done is repudiate the deal that we negotiated in good faith with Prime Minister (Theresa) May’s government over two years and have sort of put half of that now back on the table and are saying, ‘That’s a concession’. And, of course, it isn’t really,” said the Irish leader.
Johnson’s office claimed Tuesday that EU intransigence had led to a breakdown in negotiations.
The U.K. said, however, that it still hopes to strike a deal. Johnson and Varadkar are expected to meet in person later this week.
The Times of London reported Wednesday that five Cabinet ministers in Johnson’s Conservative government are threatening to resign if the government adopts a no-deal Brexit as its central policy.