UK, Irish leaders to meet as Brexit deal hopes wane
LONDON — The leaders of Britain and Ireland were meeting Thursday in an attempt to find common ground for an elusive Brexit deal, with just three weeks until the United Kingdom is set to leave the European Union.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar were scheduled to hold a private lunch meeting in northwest England.
Britain is due to leave the 28-nation bloc on October 31 and attempts to find a deal have foundered over plans for the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland.
The currently all-but-invisible border underpins both the regional economy and Northern Ireland’s peace process.
Under a U.K. proposal, there would have to be customs checks on some goods, though not on the border itself. The EU said any customs checks are unacceptable.
In recent days, Britain and the EU have traded bad-tempered barbs about who is responsible for the deadlock in talks.
After Johnson’s Downing Street office claimed EU intransigence had made it “essentially impossible” for the U.K. to leave with a deal, European Commission President Donald Tusk warned against playing a “stupid blame game.”
Varadkar and other EU leaders said Johnson, who took office in July, has repudiated the withdrawal agreement made with the bloc by his predecessor, Theresa May. That deal was rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament, largely because of lawmakers’ opposition to provisions to ensure an open Irish border.
Johnson insists the U.K. will leave the EU on October 31, with or without a divorce deal.
However, many members of Britain’s Parliament are determined to prevent a no-deal Brexit, which economists said would plunge the U.K. economy into recession. Last month, they passed a law requiring the government to ask the EU for a delay if no divorce deal has been agreed by October 19 – the day after a key summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
Johnson said he won’t delay Brexit past October 31 – but also will obey the law. It’s unclear how the two statements can be reconciled.
Parliament is expected to hold a rare Saturday sitting on October 19 as lawmakers grapple with what to do next. /kga
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