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Boris Johnson will meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday as the U.K. and European Union seek a breakthrough in stalled talks to reach a Brexit deal. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned the two sides are in no position to reach an accord, but said that with "goodwill" there’s still the possibility of doing so. Johnson said he is "cautiously optimistic.”
Johnson has also scheduled an emergency sitting of Parliament for Oct. 19, the day after he returns from a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. The crisis session will give MPs the chance to debate the way forward. A rare Saturday session in the House of Commons, it’s set to be fraught as politicians weigh their options: delaying Brexit, crashing out with no deal, or trying to bring down the government.
Johnson and Varadkar to Meet in northwest England on ThursdayParliament to sit on Saturday Oct. 19 after crunch EU summit. Parliament has only met four times on a Saturday since 1939.Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay to hold talks with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier on ThursdayBarnier: a deal is “very difficult, but possible”Johnson’s DUP allies reject mooted European compromise plan for Irish borderBrexit Talks Go On Hold as Leaders Focus on Pinning Blame
Johnson Says He’s ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ (5:45 p.m.)
Boris Johnson posted a campaign video on Twitter summing up his week so far, including announcements on hospitals and police, a reference to Extinction Rebellion protests in London and -- inevitably -- a reference to Brexit.
"We’ve been also negotiating with our friends and partners in the EU about Brexit,” Johnson said. “I’m still cautiously, cautiously optimistic."
U.K. Banks to Help Companies With Brexit Loans (5:25 p.m.)
U.K.’s banks signed up to a government-backed program designed to ensure small and medium-sized companies have access to the cash they need to prepare for Brexit.
The government’s British Business Bank will make 1.3 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) available to lenders to enable them to help SMEs invest in capital, increase export capabilities and manage cash flow, the Business Department said in an emailed statement.
The program was finalized at a meeting of the government’s Business Finance Council, co-chaired by Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom and Economic Secretary to the Treasury John Glen. Banks signed up include Barclays, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and Santander.
Johnson and Varadkar to Meet On Thursday (5:05 p.m.)
The British and Irish leaders will meet over lunchtime on Thursday for what looks likely to be a make-or-break conversation for the chances of getting a Brexit deal by the Oct. 31 deadline. Boris Johnson is hosting Leo Varadkar in northwestern England for the private talks, along with members of their senior teams, according to statements released by both sides.
"This will be a private meeting to allow both leaders and their teams to have detailed discussions about the process for securing agreement for a Brexit deal," the Irish government said in a statement.
Barnier Aims For Moral High Ground (4:50 p.m.)
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator distanced himself from some of the more inflammatory rhetoric that emerged on Tuesday, saying the bloc would remain “calm, vigilant, constructive and respectful of the United Kingdom and those who govern it.”
Michel Barnier told European lawmakers that while the two sides were still far apart, there was the possibility of an agreement -- as long as there’s “goodwill.” But, with negotiations at an impasse, he didn’t show any sign that the EU is ready to give ground.
He spelled out some of the more serious issues of disagreement, describing Brexit as “something that’s long-term” and “creating specific serious problems, first and foremost for Ireland.”
The biggest area of dispute relates to customs arrangements on the Irish border. Barnier rejected the U.K.’s bid to work those out during a post-Brexit transition period because if that didn’t end up happening it would lead to “no checks whatsoever,” which would damage the EU’s single market.
He also criticized the U.K.’s plan to give the Northern Ireland assembly a veto over the deal and the government’s request to remove the so-called level playing field commitments, agreed by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May -- which would prevent the U.K. undercutting the EU on issues such as taxation, environmental standards and social protection. That was about “a basic sense of fairness and loyalty,” he said.
Barnier: No Position at Moment to Get Brexit Deal ( 4:15 p.m.)
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the European Parliament that “time is pressing” to get a Brexit deal, but the sides aren’t in a position to reach an agreement yet.
Among disagreements is the issue of customs checks on the Irish border, he says. “We need to have proper rigorous checks all along our external border,” he said.
EU’s Juncker Says Don’t Blame EU (4:00 p.m.)
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says he doesn’t “exclude a deal” on Brexit.
“We are not accepting this blame game which started in London -- we are not to be blamed,” he told the European Parliament in Brussels.
Ireland Holds Out For Brexit Solution (2 p.m.)
Ireland needs a solution to the border with Northern Ireland that “can be sustained into the future” after Brexit, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said in a Bloomberg TV interview in Dublin. Ireland still requires a deal that preserves “the principles behind the backstop,” he said.
Any proposal to seek the consent of Northern Ireland tied must “respect the role” of the two communities of Northern Ireland, Donohoe added. The U.K. plan in its current form could give an effective veto to just one political party in the region.
Merkel Not Breaking Code of Silence (1:30 p.m.)
Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, kept getting pressed about the now-famous morning phone call. The U.K. side have given their take on it but Germans are not, but one can try and read between the lines.
Here is what he said to reporters in Berlin:
“We have no new position on Brexit, neither the chancellor nor the government. This is what we’ve always said. The government will work to find a solution until the last possible moment, so that we can have an orderly U.K. exit out of the EU and avoid the scenario of a no-deal or disorderly exit, because that is the worst-case scenario for all involved.”
Asked more pointedly whether the chancellor said what the British press (or Downing Street) said she said: “A private conversation is a private conversation.” He went on to say, again, that Germany’s position hasn’t changed.
Barnier: Deal Is ‘Difficult But Possible’ (12:15 p.m.)
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said a deal with the U.K. is “very difficult but possible” as he prepared to meet with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on Thursday.
“The EU will remain calm, vigilant, respectful and constructive. The technical talks continue and I’m invited for working lunch with Steve Barclay tomorrow,” Barnier told reporters on Wednesday. “I think a deal is possible, very difficult but possible.”
Irish Backstop Can’t Have time limit, EU Says (12 p.m.)
EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said he and his European Commission colleagues had discussed Brexit and all agreed the latest British proposal was inadequate. The Irish backstop can’t have a time limit, Oettinger told reporters in Brussels.
Boris Johnson Has a Plan B for Brexit If the EU Rejects His Deal
Reported EU Plan Non-Runner, DUP Says (11:35 a.m.)
The DUP moved quickly to kill off a reported move by the EU to break the deadlock by giving the Northern Ireland Assembly a say over how long EU customs rules last (see 11:20 a.m.). Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said this would allow Sinn Fein keep the region bound to the EU indefinitely.
“This is worse than Mrs May’s deal, which at least contained the pretense of these arrangements only being used as an insurance policy,” he said in a statement. “This proposal confirms the intended permanency of keeping Northern Ireland in the EU and removing us from the United Kingdom.”
Scottish Court Delays Decision on Extension (11:25 a.m.)
Scottish judges held off intervening in the Brexit furor by postponing a decision on whether they need to commit to sending a letter requesting an extension, giving Boris Johnson a temporary legal victory.
The judges ruled that Johnson hadn’t acted unlawfully but left the door open to a new case if he fails to reach a deal with the EU and refuses to request an extension by Oct. 19, as he would be required to by law. Under a power peculiar to Scottish law, known as nobile officium, Scottish courts can intervene in any way they see fit to fix an outcome.
At the hearing in Edinburgh, Johnson’s lawyers promised he will obey the law and request an extension from the EU, while also arguing that there’s nothing to stop the prime minister continuing to say he intends to leave on Oct. 31.
Potential Backstop Offer Floated (11:20 a.m.)
The EU may be willing to make a major concession to Boris Johnson over the Irish border by giving the Northern Ireland Assembly a say over how long EU customs rules last in the province, the Times newspaper reported.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, the bloc is dangling the prospect of the assembly in Belfast being able to pull Northern Ireland out of the so-called backstop mechanism, aimed at preventing a hard Irish border, but it would need to vote at some point after a few years with a double majority, an EU official said.
This would mean it would need to be approved by both nationalist and unionist politicians, something that was immediately rejected by Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman for the DUP. Sinn Fein also appeared to reject the idea.
It would also need Johnson to agree to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union until then, and possibly forever, something he’s said he’s not willing to do.
The idea is not an official EU position and would need the approval of the Irish government, but officials say it is seen as a potential compromise and that has been made clear to U.K. negotiators. Bloomberg reported last week that the EU was considering offering to time-limit the backstop linked to the assembly’s consent.
Barclay and Barnier to Meet on Thursday (11 a.m.)
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will travel to Brussels for talks with European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday.
The meeting is being seen as a stock-take, rather than an indication of a breakthrough -- or breakdown -- in negotiations, according to British officials.
Parliament Set For Emergency Saturday Sitting (Earlier)
MPs will sit in emergency session in London on Saturday Oct. 19, just 12 days before Britain is set to leave the EU, the day after a crunch summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
If Boris Johnson strikes a deal with the EU, it will be a chance for politicians to vote on it, but if he doesn’t, it could also present an opportunity for the premier to ask Parliament to sanction a no-deal Brexit.
Parliament has already passed a law requiring Johnson to ask for an extension to negotiations if no deal is reached by Oct. 19, but he could use the debate as an opportunity to set out ways he plans to get around the so-called Benn Act and deliver on his promise leave the EU on Oct. 31.
It will be the first time the House of Commons has met at a weekend since 1982, when MPs debated the Falklands War.
Denmark Increases Support for SMEs (Earlier)
Just two days after Boris Johnson called Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to discuss Brexit, the Business Ministry in Copenhagen announced it is spending an extra 50 million kroner ($7.4 million) to help the country’s small and medium-sized companies deal with the fallout from the U.K.’s departure from the EU.
“A no-deal Brexit continues to be a high-risk scenario and that’s why we need to step up preparations,” Business Minister Simon Kollerup told reporters. “Denmark will be hit really hard by a no-deal Brexit, especially if we are not prepared enough.”
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--With assistance from Morten Buttler, Kitty Donaldson, Patrick Donahue, Anna Edwards, Jonathan Stearns, Rodney Jefferson and Dara Doyle.
To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Ross in London at email@example.com;Ian Wishart in Brussels at firstname.lastname@example.org;Alex Morales in London at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org, Thomas Penny
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