Brussels available to 'clarify its position' on Brexit to new UK government, says spokeswoman

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By Emma Beswick  with Reuters
Brussels available to 'clarify its position' on Brexit to new UK government, says spokeswoman
Copyright  REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

The European Commission is willing to discuss Brexit with Britain over the coming weeks, a spokeswoman told a news briefing on Tuesday.

She added the executive branch of the European Union hoped to avoid a no-deal situation but the bloc was prepared for this outcome.

"The Commission does remain available over the coming weeks should the United Kingdom wish to hold talks and clarify its position in more detail, whether by phone or in person," the spokeswoman said.

UK and EU at an impasse

London and Brussels remained in a standoff over the terms under which the UK would leave the bloc: The UK insisted the EU needed to "change its stance" on renegotiating former Prime Minister Thresa May's withdrawal agreement, while EU negotiators told European diplomats there was currently no basis for further "meaningful discussions".

The deal negotiated by May has been rejected on three occasions by British MPs.

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a vocal Brexiter, has taken a hard line on Brexit since taking office two weeks ago, vowing to leave the bloc by the October 31 deadline, with or without a deal.

As Britain moved closer to a no-deal exit, the pound sank to a two-year low against the euro as investors became nervous at the prospect.

Read more: Pound sinks as Boris Johnson pushes UK closer to no-deal Brexit

Johnson's demands to "get rid" of the Irish backstop from the deal — an insurance policy written in to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event the UK and EU fail to negociate a long-term trade deal — were called unacceptable by the EU.

Read more: Boris Johnson's demands are 'unacceptable', says EU's Michel Barnier

Many critics of May's deal raised concerns over the backstop, which would also involve a temporary single customs territory that would remain unless both parties agreed it was no longer required — a measure that would to all intense and purposes keep the entirety of the UK in the EU customs union.

Read more: What is the Irish backstop and why does Boris Johnson want it ditched?

Johnson’s central strategy ‘central scenario’ is no-deal Brexit, EU diplomats claim

European diplomats were cited as telling The Guardian newspaper on Tuesday that Johnson’s central plan was a no-deal Brexit and he had no intention of renegotiating the withdrawal agreement.

Number 10 refuted the claims, with a spokesperson saying: "The prime minister wants to meet EU leaders and negotiate a new deal — one that abolishes the anti-democratic backstop.

"We will throw ourselves into the negotiations with the greatest energy and the spirit of friendship and we hope the EU will rethink its current refusal to make any changes to the withdrawal agreement."

The UK is set to leave the EU on October 31, with Johnson saying Britain must prepare for the possibility that it has to do so without a deal if the bloc refuses to renegotiate its exit accord and the EU sticking to its guns, saying the previously-negotiated and thrice-rejected deal is the only option.

Read more: New PM Johnson says Britain must prepare for no-deal Brexit

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