Tuesday

14th Jul 2020

Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'

  • Brexit MEPs during EU negotiator Michel Barnier's speech: isolated (Photo: European Parliament)

EU top officials on Wednesday (18 September) warned that the UK is heading for a no-deal break with the EU, unless the London government provides written proposals on the controversial Irish border issue.

"There is very little time left. […] The risk of a no-deal is very real," EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs in Strasbourg.

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Juncker met with British prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday in Luxembourg, but discussions did not yield any breakthrough.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October, leaving only six weeks for London to come up with alternative proposals on the backstop, which is aimed at securing an open border on the island of Ireland.

UK lawmakers recently pushed through legislation forcing Johnson to ask for an extension from the EU, but it is unclear whether the PM will stick to it.

"The prime minister said he wants an agreement, but also said that whatever happens, the UK will leave 31 October with or without an agreement," Juncker said of his meeting with Johnson.

"The risk of no-deal is palpable," he said, adding that no-deal is "going to come down to a decision to the UK government, it will never be the choice, the preferred option of the EU".

Juncker said he told Johnson he had "no emotional attachment" to the backstop, but he standby by the objectives it wants to achieve.

The outgoing commission chief laid out that the backstop is a safety net to avoid a physical border on the island of Ireland, to safeguard the EU's single market, and to protect the 21-year old peace between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

He said he asked Johnson to make, in writing, alternative proposals to move the negotiations forward, despite Johnson insisting that progress has been made in talks.

'Pretending'

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned there should be no time spent on "pretending to negotiate".

"The consequences of Brexit are not theoretical, but considerable," he told MEPs.

Barnier also warned that even if the UK leaves without an agreement, the key issues in the divorce deal - the Irish border, financial settlement, and citizens' rights - will have to be resolved before the future relationship talks.

"I would recommend nobody underestimates the consequences of no-deal for UK first and foremost, but for us as well," Barnier added.

"We are faced with more, rather than less uncertainty," Finland's EU affairs minister Tytti Tuppurainen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said against the backdrop of cheering and applauding pro-Brexit MEPs.

"[The new UK government] has not helped to clarify the situation or the UK's negotiating position," she added.

MEPs are expected to support a resolution in the parliament on Thursday that would give its blessing to a possible extension to the Brexit deadline if Johnson decides to request it.

EU leaders will deal with Brexit at a key summit meeting mid-October, including a possible extension.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said the withdrawal agreement, negotiated by the EU and the previous UK government under Theresa May, is a "very bad deal" even without the backstop.

He said there is no trust between the EU and UK, pointing to the "pipsqueak prime minister of Luxembourg".

Xavier Bettel on Monday at a press conference vented his frustration with Brexit after meeting with Johnson, who decided not to take part in the press event because of loud protestors.

Farage called said Bettel had "humiliated" Johnson, and that French president Emmanuel Macron, in return, welcomed Bettel in Paris as a "hero" the day after.

Farage, who commands the largest single party of MEPs in the European parliament, with 29 MEPs, said the EU's plan was to trap the UK inside the bloc, because it fears Britain would be "much wealthier" alone.

Top Brexit MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who runs the group of lawmakers tasked with Brexit issues, pointed out that this debate cannot take place in Britain, because parliament has been suspended there.

"It's fantastic the Brexit Party and Mr Farage are making so much noise because they can't do it in Westminster anymore," the Belgian former prime minister said.

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