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A Brexit Deal Is Unlikely



European Union and British Union flag flying in front of Big Ben

A deal to smooth Britain’s departure from the European Union hung in the balance yesterday after diplomats indicated the bloc wanted more concessions from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and said a full agreement was unlikely this week.

EU leaders could hold an extra European Council summit to discuss a Brexit deal before the end of October because an agreement is unlikely by the time of their scheduled meeting later this week, according to a diplomatic note seen by BuzzFeed News.

The memo says the chances are low of a text on customs arrangements, the most difficult sticking point in the negotiations, in time for leaders to make a decision when they gather in Brussels for the summit on Thursday and Friday.

Instead, the meeting’s conclusions will more likely focus on the terms of a possible extension of the Brexit deadline, with either Jan. 31, 2020, or later mooted as potential options should the UK ask to delay its departure for a third time.

A senior European government official urged caution, telling BuzzFeed News that a lack of agreement this week shouldn’t automatically be interpreted as entirely negative, and was as much to do with the lack of time as the substance of the negotiations.

Another EU source said that, with talks between the UK and the EU still ongoing, it was premature to definitively determine the contents of this week’s summit, and a deal, though difficult, was still possible.

Mr Johnson says he wants to strike an exit deal at an EU summit on Thursday and Friday to allow an orderly departure on Oct 31, but if an agreement is not possible he will lead the United Kingdom out of the club it joined in 1973 without a deal – even though Parliament has passed a law saying he cannot do so.

Under prime minister Boris Johnson’s latest proposals, Northern Ireland would legally remain in the UK’s customs union, but would at the same time continue to abide by the EU’s rules on customs and tariffs, avoiding border checks in Ireland. The arrangement would in effect create a dual customs system that would see goods tracked and businesses having to apply for a rebate to cover any differences in tariffs.

One of several reservations raised by Barnier is the difficulty of knowing whether a good ultimately ends up in the EU’s market and supply chains.
EU officials believe that an agreement building on a Northern Ireland-only backstop, which would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market and customs territory, would be a more feasible solution given the time available.

The details of Mr Johnson’s proposals have not been published but are essentially a compromise in which Northern Ireland is formally in the UK’s Customs union – and informally in the EU’s Customs union.

Johnson has repeatedly stated that he will refuse to countenance a Brexit delay beyond Oct. 31.

A senior official from a European government told BuzzFeed News that the mood in many EU capitals had hardened in recent weeks, and any request to prolong Brexit would need to be accompanied by a clear purpose.

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