Johnson Says Divorce Talks at ‘Difficult Moment’: Brexit Update

Jonathan Stearns, Alex Morales and Jessica Shankleman
Johnson Says Divorce Talks at ‘Difficult Moment’: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- Follow @Brexit, sign up to our Brexit Bulletin, and tell us your Brexit story. 

Boris Johnson skipped a planned press conference with his Luxembourgish counterpart Xavier Bettel, which was set up close to a noisy group of anti-Brexit protesters. In his absence, Bettel called Brexit a “nightmare” and said it was up to Johnson to find a way out of the impasse.

Earlier, the U.K. prime minister met European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss the divorce agreement. Johnson told the BBC a deal “will take some work,” while the EU said a breakthrough is no closer.

Key Developments:

Johnson misses news conference with Luxembourg’s Xavier BettelBoth sides put out read-outs on meeting that show no breakthroughU.K. Foreign Secretary said EU must show flexibility to get a dealPound extended losses as Bettel spokeRead more: Bettel Rips Into U.K and Calls Brexit Situation a ‘Nightmare’

EU Says Breakthrough No Closer (5.25 p.m.)

The talks between Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker over lunch in Brussels were friendly -- but that doesn’t mean a breakthrough is any closer, an EU official said. The European Commission statement issued after the lunch was meant to signal the lack of anything fundamentally new.

Johnson didn’t bring any concrete proposals which would replace the controversial Irish backstop while still meeting the EU’s objectives, the commission said.

Lib Dems Would Campaign to Rejoin EU: Davey (5:05 p.m.)

If Boris Johnson succeeds in taking the U.K. out of the European Union on Halloween, the Liberal Democrats will go into any general election campaigning to rejoin the bloc, according to the party’s finance spokesman Ed Davey.

“If there is an election directly after he crashes us out and the chaos is hitting, people are going to say ‘who’s going to save us from this?’ And the only policy that’s credible is to rejoin,” Davey said when asked by Bloomberg what the party’s post-Brexit message would be. The same would also be true even if the U.K. leaves with a deal, he said, because the country would be in a Brexit transition period and “won’t really have left.”

Davey’s statement is far more definitive than that of his party leader, Jo Swinson, who on BBC radio on Monday was reluctant to be drawn on the issue. Davey said he thought the EU would be open to readmitting the U.K. on its current terms, and that his party wouldn’t want Britain to be in the Euro, or in the Schengen area.

Johnson Refuses to Rule Out Court Battle (5 p.m.)

In an interview with the BBC, the prime minister repeatedly refused to rule out taking his battle to court in order to ensure the U.K. leaves the EU on Oct. 31. He said he was hopeful of reaching a deal with the bloc but that an accelerated timetable for talks will be needed.

Speaking after a working lunch with Juncker, Johnson said: “He is a very, highly, highly intelligent guy and I think that he would like to get a deal if we possibly can, but clearly it’s going to take some work.”

The premier also refused to rule out suspending Parliament once again to deliver on his pledge. “We will obey the law but we will come out -- and -- we will come out I should say on October 31.”

Johnson gave scant details on how he planned to get a deal with the bloc, saying he wanted checks away from the border in Northern Ireland. “It’s all doable with energy and goodwill,” he said.

Johnson Says Brexit in ‘Difficult Moment’ (3:40 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government is “working very hard” to get a Brexit deal, but added it is a “difficult moment” and, while both sides are talking, a divorce agreement “isn’t necessarily in the bag.”

It wasn’t immediately clear from the pooled TV interview if the comments were before or after the meeting with his Luxembourgish counterpart Xavier Bettel. But it’s clear that both sides remain far from reaching a deal.

After Johnson canceled his press conference appearance alongside Bettel (see 3:05 p.m.), an official in his office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.K. had repeatedly asked for the event to moved inside, away from the protesters, but was told by the Luxembourg side it wouldn’t be.

Bettel Blames U.K. For Brexit ‘Mess’ (3:15 p.m.)

A very animated Bettel drew repeated rounds of applause and cheers from anti-Brexit protesters gathered next to the outdoor venue as he held no punches in his press conference after his meeting with Johnson.

“This is a nightmare,” he said. “Imagine you are a European citizen in London, and you don’t know what the future will look like.”

He was asked if Johnson would obey the law and about the idea that he might not. Bettel’s response: “This would not happen in Luxembourg.”

Johnson Dodges Press Conference With Bettel (3:05 p.m.)

A planned joint news conference at 2 p.m. London time was delayed by almost an hour after Johnson’s talks with Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.

Two podiums had been set up outside and the loud heckling by anti-Brexit opponents could have potentially embarrassed the U.K. leader. Demonstrators could be heard shouting “dirty liar” and music blared.

In the end Johnson was seen leaving, and his Luxembourgian counterpart addressed reporters alone.

Johnson, Juncker Held “Constructive” Talks (2:40 p.m.)

The leaders agreed discussions would intensify and meetings would soon take place "on a daily basis,” according to a statement by a U.K. government spokesperson. The read-out from the European side spoke about remaining “available to work 24/7” while underlining that no “legally operational solutions” had been put forward yet by the Brits.

If no agreement is reached at the next summit of EU leaders on Oct 17-18, Johnson is set to pursue a course of leaving the bloc without one, in defiance of a new law designed to force him to seek an extension to the deadline. Johnson’s team expect the legal battle will go to court.

Umunna: Lib Dems Can Win 200 Seats (12:30 p.m.)

Fresh from his first speech to his new party, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Chuka Umunna said internal polling shows the party could secure 100 seats at a general election with a swing of just 1.5 to 2%, while a 5%-swing could yield 200 seats.

“We’re not complacent, we’re not drunk on our success,” Umunna said. “We want to continue to expand the bandwidth and draw people into the party.”

That’s still far short of the 326 seats needed for a majority, and suggests there’s work to do if the Liberal Democrats are to stand a chance of forming a government -- something Party Leader Jo Swinson said Sunday is their aim.

Ireland Channels Playwright Over Brexit Impasse (12:25 p.m.)

Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe channeled playwright Samuel Beckett to describe the path yet to come in the Brexit process. “I can’t go on, I will go on,” he said in a speech in Dublin on Monday, echoing a famous line from Beckett’s “The Unnameable.”

Donohoe reiterated that even if the U.K. leaves the European Union without a deal, the Irish border question will have to be resolved before any talks on a future trade deal, and that Boris Johnson’s intention to diverge from EU rules makes the backstop more important again.

He also made clear the Irish government is open to “modifications, improvements or alternative arrangements that would secure the same outcomes” as the backstop, “while amplifying the forms of consent and inclusion that underpin the Good Friday Agreement.”

That may be a reference to the vexed issue of the Democratic Unionist Party’s blocking powers in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing assembly, which could prevent the alignment on EU rules needed to avoid a hard border.

Labour Defector Umunna Gets Lib Dem Cheers (11:20 a.m.)

Loud cheers greeted Chuka Umunna as he took to the stage at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference in Bournemouth. The defector from the main opposition Labour Party opened with an unashamedly pro-European message, and said he couldn’t feel more welcome in his new party.

Brexit is “the battle of our times,” he said, trumpeting the policy agreed by the Liberal Democrats on Sunday that if the party comes out on top in the next general election, they’ll call off Britain’s departure from the European Union.

He said the Liberal Democrats will take seats off the ruling Conservatives in every part of the country at the next election, and also attacked Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who Umunna said was relaxed about Brexit.

Liberal Democrat luminaries including party leader Jo Swinson and former leader Menzies Campbell sat in the front row -- alongside Angela Smith, Umunna’s fellow defector from Labour. At the end of his 20-minute speech, he received a standing ovation and came off the stage to hug Swinson.

Johnson, Juncker, Barnier Arrive for Lunch Meeting (11 a.m.)

Boris Johnson, Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier have arrived at “Le Bouquet Garni” restaurant in the center of Luxembourg for their lunch meeting.

Asked by waiting reporters about the likely outcome, Juncker replied only: “We will see.”

Johnson and Juncker shook hands and posed for photographs beforehand, with anti-Brexit protesters gathered nearby.

Brexit Deal Is ‘Imperative’: U.K. Minister (10:15 a.m.)

Getting a Brexit deal is an “absolute imperative” for the British government, City Minister John Glen said in an interview with Bloomberg TV, though he added the administration is also focused on leaving the European Union on Oct. 31 and has done an “enormous amount” of no-deal planning.

“We’ve got to get a clear resolution so that businesses can plan,” Glen said.

Finland: No-Deal Brexit Is ‘Going to Happen’ (9:40 a.m.)

In an interview with CNBC, Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne said the European Union must accept that a no-deal Brexit is “going to happen.”

Rinne said he told his British counterpart Boris Johnson “some weeks ago” that the only Brexit deal available is the one negotiated with his predecessor, Theresa May, and there is little appetite in the EU for an extension beyond Oct. 31 “if there is no possibility to see a new solution.”

“I hope if he’s going to ask for more time it means that he has something to say,” Rinne said of Johnson.

Lib Dems: We Can Stop Brexit (8:25 a.m.)

Jo Swinson, leader of the U.K.’s pro-EU Liberal Democrats, said she believed it’s still possible to stop Brexit and will work to achieve this.

She declined to say whether her party would campaign to rejoin the European Union if an election takes place after the U.K. has left the bloc.

The Liberal Democrats, who are holding their annual conference, are a small but growing opposition party. They have benefited from MPs defecting to join them as Brexit splits the two larger parties, most recently with the arrival of former Tory leadership candidate Sam Gyimah.

EU Must Show Flexibility, Raab Says (7:40 a.m.)

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that Johnson’s message to the European Union on Monday will be: “We will go for the deal, but we are also going to be very clear with our EU partners that we are leaving at the end of October.”

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Raab suggested Johnson won’t be taking detailed proposals to change the issues around the Irish border that Britain objects to. “There’ll be a tendency to try and rubbish things we put forward in order to try and exact further demands,” he said. “We’re not going to get involved with that.”

He said the U.K. didn’t want to “play into the posturing that accompany any negotiations.” Raab ruled out asking for any more extensions to the proposed transition period, currently scheduled to finish at the end of 2020. He said Britain wanted “finality.”

Asked if the government would obey the law passed by Parliament this month to force Johnson to seek an extension to negotiations if he doesn’t have a deal, Raab said there was no question of disobeying the law, but that the law itself was “deeply flawed.”

Earlier:

Johnson Talks Up a Brexit Deal as He Heads for Juncker Meeting‘Order, Order!’: U.K. Parliament Speaker Isn’t Bowing Out MeeklyTo Prorogue or Not to Prorogue, Top Judges Get the QuestionBrexit Bulletin: Over a Lunch of Snails

--With assistance from Nick Rigillo, David Goodman, Robert Hutton, Leo Laikola, Stephanie Bodoni and Dara Doyle.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Stearns in Luxembourg at jstearns2@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Thomas Penny

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.