07:23 GMT +312 November 2019
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    European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier gives the keynote address on Brexit during a conference to mark the launch of the Centre for European Reform's new office in Brussels

    Minutes To Midnight: Barnier Gives Brexit Ultimatum to Boris Johnson

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    As the clock to the UK's departure from the EU begins to wind down, talks of a last minute deal begin to materialise. With the UK government beginning to shift towards accepting Brussels proposals to keep Northern Ireland within the bloc’s full customs code, while not legally within the Customs Union.

    European Union Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has given UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson until midnight on Tuesday to come to an agreement with the EU on the UKs departure from the bloc.

    According to The Guardian, Belgium’s deputy prime minister, Didier Reynders, told reporters after a meeting with EU officials that “if we have an agreement tonight it will be possible to go to the [European] council and then again to the British Parliament. But it’s not easy, we have some red lines, they are well known by all the partners. I’m hoping it will be possible today to make some progress”.

    While saying before the meeting that a deal was "possible" and that it was time to turn "good intentions into legal text", Barnier said that a concession from the UK on the Northern Ireland backstop and a customs border in the Irish Sea must be assured before Johnson can take anything back to Parliament.

    Barnier also said that the UK had dropped it's proposal of a Stormont lock, which would give Northern Ireland an effective veto on any arrangement every four years.

    A UK government spokesperson refused to recognise the deadline however, saying: “We are working hard. The prime minister is aware of the time constraints that we are under".

    The UK's Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, who was also in Luxembourg and met Barnier this morning, claimed that an agreement is “still very possible”.

    “The talks are ongoing. We need to give them space to proceed but detailed conversations are under way", he said.

    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, meets with Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar
    © AP Photo / Niall Carson
    Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, meets with Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar

    How to avoid the erection of a hard border in Ireland remains the fundamental log jam in the negotiations. Downing Street has consistently said that there will not be a border on the island of Ireland but also wishes to prevent a customs border down the Irish Sea, thus economically separating a part of the UK from the others.

    The EU's position remains that the UK must accept a deal akin to the Northern Ireland-only backstop and keep Northern Ireland in the Single Market and the Customs Territory, which was rejected by Theresa May in 2018. 

    Boris Johnson suggested last week to establish a dual system at Northern Ireland’s ports and airport where goods could be tracked entering from Great Britain and regulations determined on a case by case basis depending on destination. This proposal has since been rejected by the EU.

    With just 16 days to go until the existing 31 October deadline, which Johnson has repeatedly ruled out any extension to, the time for a last minute deal becomes increasingly limited

    However, a thorn in the side of the government is the Benn Act, which Parliament voted through to rule out a no-deal Brexit and legislates that the PM must request an extension to Article 50 if MPs do not support a deal by this Saturday, 19 October.

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    Boris Johnson, Michel Barnier, negotiations, Brexit
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