“Time is running out” to secure a Brexit agreement, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned the MEPs during a debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday (18 September). However, while Juncker believed the risk of a no-deal Brexit was still “very real”, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson still remains confident he can get a deal by 31 October. Juncker met the British prime minister in Luxembourg earlier on Monday, the first time the two leaders have engaged in formal negotiations since Johnson became prime minister in July.
Johnson has repeatedly promised that Brexit will happen on 31 October no matter what, even if the two parties don’t reach any deal by this date and despite a British law requiring him to request an extension of the Brexit deadline if no deal is agreed upon. However, while “a no-deal Brexit might be the choice of the UK, but it will never be ours,” Juncker also told the parliamentarians. Meanwhile, the UK Supreme Court is due to decide in the coming days whether Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament was illegal.
The main point of contention in negotiations remains what is known as ‘Irish backstop’, which has been described as a safety net to avoid a hard border between Ireland – that is and will remain an EU member – and Northern Ireland that will leave the EU with the rest of the UK. Johnson has rejected the policy, which was first proposed in the deal brokered by his predecessor Theresa May, but EU negotiators say that they expect Johnson to offer a viable alternative solution. “We need legally operational solutions. It is not enough to explain to us why the backstop should be removed,” the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, commented.