Brussels – Britain and the European Union (EU) agreed Friday to hold intensified discussions over the coming days on new Brexit proposals put forward by London, after a meeting between the British and Irish prime ministers gave rise to new hope of securing a deal.
“The EU and the UK have agreed to intensify discussions over the coming days,” the European Commission announced, after EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier briefed member states on talks earlier Friday with his British counterpart.
Next week, EU leaders meet for a crunch summit in Brussels at which both sides had hoped to finalise a deal.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted Brexit will take place on Oct. 31, come what may, despite being legally obliged to request an extension if he has not secured a deal by next Saturday.
However, diplomatic sources dampened expectations on Friday, noting that many uncertainties remain and a lot of work must be done to bridge the gaps between London’s demands and the EU’s red lines.
“The EU’s position remains the same,” the commission said in a statement.
It noted that any deal must contain a “legally operative solution” that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, while protecting the island’s economy, the Good Friday peace accord and the EU’s single market.
On Thursday, Johnson met with his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar to discuss ways of resolving the thorny Irish border issue, after London presented new proposals to replace the contentious backstop provisions in the current draft agreement.
Following the meeting, European Council President Donald Tusk said he had received “promising signals” from Varadkar, adding that “even the slightest chance” of a deal must be used.
He stressed that Britain has still not put forward a “workable, realistic” Brexit proposal.
But London has now shown sufficient movement on several key EU areas of concern for talks to begin, one diplomatic source said Friday on condition of anonymity. Earlier, Barnier held talks with his EU counterpart Stephen Barclay.
The EU will take stock of progress on Monday.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Central Bank on Friday warned that the country could see more than 70,000 job losses over the next two years if faced with a “disorderly, no deal Brexit”.