EU leaders have told British PM Boris Johnson that it will not be possible to agree upon a Brexit deal before Thursday’s meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels, as reported by The Independent.
“I think there is no time in a practical or legal way to find an agreement before the EU Council meeting. We need more time", said Finland’s Prime Minister Antti Rinne, whose government currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said while appearing in Helsinki alongside Belgian PM Charles Michel, who will be the next European Council President.
This was echoed by the next EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borell, who told reporters after a meeting in Luxembourg that Brussels might resort to “stopping the watch” to get the deal done.
“You know, in Europe, we always take decisions on the edge of the precipice, on the edge of the cliff", Borell said. “Even when the last minute comes, then we stop the watch and say that we need technically more time to fulfil all the requirements, all the last minute requirements".
EU Chief Negotiator Michael Barnier, has, however, suggested that a new agreement between the UK and EU could still be struck this week.
But the delay in negotiations could mean that it would be unrealistic for Boris Johnson to present an agreed upon deal at a special session in Westminster on Saturday, potentially postponing Brexit much further.
Last week, Boris Johnson presented his new Brexit plan, which involves removing the Irish backstop and leaving Northern Ireland in the UK customs area, while following EU rules and standard on all goods. This would mean the creation of a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
It is now up to European and British parliamentarians to agree upon the new deal or seek an alternative proposal. Technical talks continued over the weekend in Brussels with both sides reporting that negotiations were “constructive”.
This week-long delay means the UK prime minister would have to request an extension to Article 50 under UK law, an option Boris Johnson has repeatedly rejected, urging Britain to leave the European Union by 31 October, with or without a divorce agreement. UK parliamentarians earlier passed the so-called Benn Act, which legally binds the British PM to ask for an extension, potentially until 31 January, if the European Union or UK does not agree upon Johnson’s new Brexit plan.