Boris Johnson’s Brexit Deal on Knife Edge

Jessica Shankleman
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Deal on Knife Edge

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal was hanging in the balance Tuesday, after the European Union Presidency said more time was needed before a summit of its leaders this week.

Antti Rinne, premier of Finland -- which currently has the rotating presidency of the EU -- said negotiations may need to continue after the EU Council summit that starts Thursday.

“I think there is no time in a practical way and in a legal base to reach an agreement before the Council meeting, I think we need to have more time,” Rinne told reporters in Helsinki.

With 16 days before the U.K. is due to leave the EU, Johnson repeatedly pledged to “get Brexit done,” as he spoke in Parliament on Monday following a Queen’s Speech that laid the ground for a general election. He’s refused to ask for a delay to Brexit, even though the Benn Act says he must do so if he hasn’t finalized a deal with both the EU and U.K. Parliament by Oct. 19.

The EU plans to decide Wednesday whether there will be a deal for leaders to sign during the Oct. 17-18 summit and has ruled out negotiating during the actual meeting of leaders.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said on Wednesday that a deal is still possible this week -- but talks remain tough, saying it’s high time to “turn good intentions in to a legal text.” The pound climbed on his comments.

Barnier Says a Deal Difficult, Still Possible: Brexit Update

Johnson postponed a meeting of his political cabinet to Wednesday, when it may become clearer whether a Brexit deal will be done this week, and the government will then be able to decide whether to call MPs in for a sitting Saturday.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid also announced Nov. 6 as the date for his annual Budget, but that will only take place if the government gets a Brexit deal.

Pound Shaken Up by Positioning in Fear of Swift and Brutal Move

With the clock ticking down, Johnson’s Brexit opponents in the U.K. met Monday to discuss their next move. They concluded any deal Johnson brings back would probably be incomplete, meaning he’d likely have to delay Brexit anyway, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

The group, which consists of some Labour MPs, the Liberal Democrats, Wales’ Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and Greens — alongside some former Conservatives — said they’d wait and see how the next 48 hours pans out.

If Johnson gets a deal they would then decide whether to seek a confirmatory public vote on it as a price for allowing it to pass Parliament, the people said.

But Johnson once again ruled out another referendum on Brexit on Monday.

“If there could be one thing more divisive more toxic than the first referendum, it would be a second referendum,” he said.

(Adds Barnier comments in sixth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Kitty Donaldson and Kati Pohjanpalo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson

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