UK and EU negotiators will try again on Monday to make headway on Brexit, while Boris Johnson’s team go into diplomatic overdrive to try and force a compromise from Brussels on the British government’s proposals.
The UK’s chief Brexit official David Frost is due in Brussels, while Brexit minister Steve Barclay visits the Netherlands.
He and his supporters continue to repeat the message that there will be no new Brexit delay at the end of the month – even though the British parliament has legislated effectively obliging the prime minister to seek another extension if no deal is agreed with the EU.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Saturday that on the basis of his mandate from the EU27, he did not believe progress could be made unless the British changed their position.
A no-deal Brexit “would always be the UK’s choice, not ours,” he said, in what some are taking to be the beginning of a blame game. The British government has accused the EU of lacking flexibility.
European leaders have responded coolly to the UK’s proposals, which would see Northern Ireland leave the customs union along with the rest of the UK, but remain in the single market for goods.
The European Commission said on Friday that the British plan submitted last week did not provide the basis for reaching an agreement.
Boris Johnson has acknowledged that customs checks will be inevitable on the island of Ireland, which the Irish government – backed by the EU – wants to avoid. The British say these could be largely automated, and take place away from the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The EU believes the risk of a hard border is too great.
Brussels insists any alternative plan to the backstop must be equally credible and legally enforceable. The UK wants to ditch the EU’s insurance measure as contained in the negotiated withdrawal agreement, which would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU should no alternative solution be found.
The prime minister has claimed that his plan would have the support of parliament, which rejected the existing exit deal three times. This has led to more criticism that the UK is once again negotiating with itself rather than with the EU.