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'The clock is ticking': EU warns a lot of work to be done before Brexit deal

He even hinted he may even have to ‘eat my words’ and support a plan close to May’s rejected agreement.

Johnson participating in an art class during a visit to St Mary's and All Saints Primary School in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
Johnson participating in an art class during a visit to St Mary's and All Saints Primary School in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
Image: Alastair Grant/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated Oct 13th 2019, 7:16 PM

THE EUROPEAN UNION’S chief Brexit negotiator has warned that ”a lot of work remains to be done” in withdrawal talks between London and Brussels.

The European Commission issued a statement shortly after Michel Barnier briefed EU ambassadors on the negotiations, just four days before a key European summit.

“Michel Barnier briefed EU27 ambassadors this afternoon, following constructive technical-level talks with the United Kingdom over the weekend,” it said.

“He will also inform the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group this evening. A lot of work remains to be done,” it warned.

Downing Street said Boris Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.

He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on 31 October,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

A European diplomat familiar with today’s briefing confirmed that there had not been any sign of a quick resolution to the crisis, and suggested Britain’s position had not moved far enough.

“No breakthrough yet. Intensive discussions continue. Overall not an easy starting position — also because only a few days remain until the European Council,” the source said.

“If the British government wants a solution, it must move quickly now. The clock is ticking.”

‘Eat my words’

Earlier, Jacobs Rees- Mogg issued an appeal to Brexiteers to trust Boris Johnson as negotiations on a deal with Brussels enter a critical stage.

The Leader of the Commons, who was a thorn in the side of Theresa May over Brexit before joining Johnson’s administration, warned compromise was inevitable if there was to be an agreement.

He hinted he may even have to “eat my words” and support a plan close to one put forward by May which he described as “completely cretinous”.

Rees-Mogg – who previously led the strongly pro-Brexit European Research Group – insisted however Leave supporters could have confidence Johnson would not give too much ground to Brussels in order to get a deal.

“I think that he is somebody who even the arch Eurosceptics, even a member of the Brexit Party, can trust and have confidence in,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

His comments will be seen as a sign of nervousness that hardline Tory Brexiteers could scupper any agreement Johnson is able to reach, just as they thwarted his predecessor.

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In a conference call with Cabinet ministers to brief them on the negotiations, Johnson said that while he could see a “pathway” to a deal there was still a “significant amount of work” to be done.

“The Prime Minister said there was a way forward for a deal that could secure all our interests, respect the Good Friday Agreement, get rid of the backstop and get Brexit done by 31 October,” a No 10 spokesman said.

It comes after the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds fired a warning shot to ministers that any return to May’s plan to resolve the issue of the Irish border would not be acceptable to his party.

Reports from Brussels suggested the Prime Minister had sought to revive a proposal by May for Northern Ireland to remain politically in a customs union with the EU, but it would be administered by the UK.

The plan would avoid the need for customs controls on the island of Ireland – something the EU is adamantly opposed to.

However, Dodds – whose party’s votes may be essential if a deal is to get through Parliament – told the Italian La Repubblica newspaper that Northern Ireland “must stay in a full UK customs union, full stop”.

“It cannot work because Northern Ireland has to remain fully part of the UK customs union,” he said.

Rees-Mogg refused to be drawn on the detail of what was being discussed in the Belgian capital.

“Naturally in the middle of a negotiation these matters are extremely sensitive as everyone is compromising to some degree and therefore to give negotiations the best chance of succeeding, it is best to be discreet about them,” he said.

But pressed on whether it could be close to May’s plan, he said:

We’ll have to find out in a day or two whether I’ll have to eat my words or not – time will tell.

He added: “There’s a line from Churchill saying that he often had to eat his words and he found it to be a very nourishing diet – and that is something that happens in politics.”

Source: PA wire

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel said security measures were being stepped up in preparedness for a possible no-deal, but denied they were driven by fears of an upsurge in terrorism by dissident Irish republicans.

She acknowledged, however, they were “conscious” of the situation in Northern Ireland and said ministers were working on “alternative arrangements” for intelligence and data sharing.

“When it comes to security tools and security co-operation there are many measures that are being put in place right now in preparedness for no-deal,” she told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.

Specifically to Northern Ireland, we are conscious and we are working with all organisations, agencies, to ensure that we remain safe.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party would decide how to respond once they had seen any deal Johnson was able to bring back from Brussels.

However, he urged “caution” on any MPs considering backing an agreement if it were put to a confirmatory referendum.

“I think many in Parliament, not necessarily Labour MPs but others might be more inclined to support it even if they don’t really agree with the deal. But I would caution them,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

- with reporting from AFP

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