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‘Much work needed’ to secure Brexit deal ahead of crucial EU summit

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Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels, Belgium, October 11, 2019
Britain's Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels, Belgium, October 11, 2019 -
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Intensive Brexit talks are continuing on Monday after the weekend’s discussions brought no breakthrough, with both London and Brussels saying much work is needed to reach a deal.

The lack of progress has dampened hopes that a deal can be struck in time for a European Council summit of EU leaders later this week (October 17-18).

A deal is within reach but many details still have to be worked out, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said as he arrived for a meeting with EU counterparts on Monday morning.

"A deal is still possible and it is possible this month, maybe even this week but we are not there yet... there's still a lot of work to do, so I hope we can make more progress today," he said.

After the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier briefed EU diplomats on Sunday afternoon, the European Commission released a statement saying “a lot of work remains to be done”.

Boris Johnson told his cabinet there was still “a significant amount of work” needed to reach a deal, Reuters reported, quoting a spokeswoman from the prime minister’s office. The government continues to insist the UK will leave the EU on October 31.

Both sides, however, described the talks as “constructive” and said they would continue.

Customs arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are the key sticking point. The details are being kept under wraps, but Euronews correspondents report that Brussels is considering new compromise proposals from London.

In the video player above: watch the analysis of Euronews correspondents Jack Parrock in Brussels and Vincent McAviney in London, on Monday's Good Morning Europe.

House of Commons leader and prominent Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg said each side was “compromising to some degree” in the talks. The British government insists that Northern Ireland must leave the EU’s customs union along with the rest of the UK. The EU opposes customs checks on the island of Ireland.

A new session of the UK parliament is due to be opened on Monday, with the Queen’s Speech outlining the government’s agenda. The House of Commons will hold a special sitting on Saturday, after the EU summit.

Read more: What is in the Queen's Speech and what happens if MPs reject it?

The European Commission said on Friday that the EU and the UK had agreed to "intensify" Brexit talks ahead of the forthcoming summit.

The announcement came after Michel Barnier debriefed EU27 ambassadors about his meeting with Britain's Brexit minister Stephen Barclay, held earlier in the day.

"The EU's position remains the same: there must be a legally operative solution in the Withdrawal Agreement that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland, protects the all-island economy and the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions, and safeguards the integrity of the single market," the Commission added in its statement.

Both Barnier and Barclay described their meeting as "constructive".

"Brexit is like climbing a mountain," the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said after the talks, adding: "we need vigilance, determination and patience."

He gave no details however on the substance of the talks.

'Promising signals'

The meeting between the two men came a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar had a "detailed and constructive discussion" in which they agreed that a Brexit deal is possible.

The exchange between the two leaders represented a change of mood compared to earlier in the week when EU and UK officials accused each other of playing a "stupid blame game."

The two sides are tussling over the backstop agreement — an insurance policy championed by the EU to keep Northern Ireland in the bloc's customs union in order to prevent the creation of a physical border which could threaten peace on the island — which the UK argues is undemocratic.

The UK presented alternative plans last week which would see Northern Ireland remain in the customs union for goods and agri-food products with physical checks to be conducted away from the border. The EU has argued however that the technology does not yet exist and rejected the UK’s plan whereby the arrangement would be subject to approval every four years from Northern Ireland’s elected authorities.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday morning that "the UK has still not come forward with a workable, realistic proposal" but tempered that by saying that "even the slight chance (that a deal can be struck) must be used."

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who is an advocate of a no-deal Brexit, tweeted: "I don't know what Boris Johnson has given away, but he sounds very defensive. Let us hope that this is not a surrender."

DUP support

A key element of formulating a new deal will be securing the support of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), with leader Arlene Foster reminding Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the DUP is "very relevant" to the parliamentary arithmetic in Parliament.

Any future deal agreed by the UK government and the EU would likely require the support of the DUP for it to be passed by parliament.

Foster added that any deal that aligns Northern Ireland to parts of the EU's single market, through remaining in a customs arrangement for example, must have democratic consent within Northern Ireland.

"The DUP has always indicated that the United Kingdom must leave the EU as one nation and in so doing that no barriers to trade are erected within the UK," she said in a statement. "In December 2017 we insisted that democratic consent was required in circumstances where Northern Ireland would align alongside specific sectors of the EU single market.

"We have held steadfast to that position whilst recognising the need to be flexible and look at Northern Ireland specific solutions achieved with the support and consent of the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland."

October 19

The decision to intensify talks between the two sides also comes less than a week before EU leaders are scheduled to gather in Brussels to discuss the UK's exit, the bloc's budget and developments in Syria.

Unless a deal is struck before then, leaders are widely expected to agree to grant the UK a third extension to avoid the country crashing out with an agreement on October 31.

Legislation passed in Britain in early September forces Johnson to ask for another delay if a deal is not agreed to before October 19, although the British leader has since continued to state that the Uk would leave at the end of the month.

Read more:

Britain and Ireland see pathway to possible Brexit deal

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