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October 16, 2019

EU, Britain scramble to reach Brexit deal


October 16, 2019

Luxembourg: British and EU negotiators on Tuesday scrambled to put together a draft text for a Brexit deal with just two days to go before a key European summit. Both sides voiced cautious optimism that an outline agreement could be reached this week, but officials admitted time is tight.

And European leaders warned they would not let Britain use Northern Ireland as a back door to the single market. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said a legal text must be on the table by Wednesday morning at the latest if it is to be signed off by leaders at the EU summit starting Thursday, in time for a special sitting of the British parliament on Saturday.

European diplomats said London has given ground on customs rules for Northern Ireland, but must go further quickly if a deal is to be done this month -- allowing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fulfil his pledge to lead Britain out on October 31.

"The negotiating teams have made progress but it has been slow and they will have to make significant progress today if there is to be a deal that Michel Barnier can report on tomorrow to the EU capitals in advance of the leaders’ summit," Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney told reporters in Luxembourg.

As he arrived in Luxembourg to brief ministers from the other 27 EU states, Barnier struck a cautiously upbeat note. "This work has been intense all along the weekend and yesterday because even if the agreement will be difficult -- more and more difficult to be frank -- it’s still possible this week," he told reporters.

"Obviously any agreement must work for everyone -- the whole of the United Kingdom and the whole of the European Union. Let me add also that it is high time to turn good intentions into legal text."

Emmanuel Macron apparently shares Barnier’s guarded optimism. An aide to the French president told reporters there was "positive momentum" behind the talks. Downing Street said Johnson had called Macron and had a "constructive" and "good discussion". "We want to make progress towards securing a deal as soon as possible and we want to make progress ahead of the EU council on Thursday," a spokesman said.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined why EU officials are driving a hard bargain and hoping Britain will commit to a "level playing field" in post-Brexit trade and commerce.

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