EU leaders have signalled a willingness to provide the UK with another Brexit extension to get a deal over the line as talks enter a critical phase.
As negotiators on both sides today continue their discussions in the so-called ‘tunnel’, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Junker has talked up the possibility of providing some additional time after the October 31 deadline.
Despite the new round of intensive negotiations, which were sparked after the Taoiseach and British prime minister Boris Johnson met last week, EU officials and diplomats have played down the prospects of a breakthrough in the coming days.
It is understood that Europe still has significant concerns around the UK’s latest proposals on customs, which it is believed would include a complex system of rebates on goods crossing the Northern Irish border.
Mr Johnson and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier — who both briefed their respective sides on developments yesterday — said there is still much work to do, leading to the belief a deal will not be reached before Thursday’s crunch summit of European leaders in Brussels
Tánaiste Simon Coveney is travelling to Luxembourg today for a meeting of fellow foreign affairs ministers ahead of the summit.
Attention will also be on Westminster today where the first Queen’s speech of his premiership, which is expected to have a key focus on Brexit, will be delivered.
With the clock ticking, Mr Junker said that he would back an extension of the UK’s membership if it was sought.
“It’s up to the Brits to decide if they will ask for an extension,” Mr Juncker told the Austrian newspaper the Kurier yesterday.
But if Boris Johnson were to ask for extra time — which probably he won’t — I would consider it unhistoric to refuse such a request.
A Government spokesman said it has always been the Taoiseach’s position that extra time should be given if there is a “clear reason” for doing so.
Briefing his minsters, Mr Johnson said there is still a “significant amount of work” to do to get a Brexit deal.
“The prime minister updated cabinet on the current progress being made in ongoing Brexit negotiations, reiterating that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” said a Downing St spokesman.
Mr Barnier also told EU ambassadors that “a lot of work still remains to be done” after the weekend’s technical talks.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald spoke by phone with Mr Johnson yesterday afternoon and told him that there could be no unionist veto on protections for Ireland.
She reminded him of his obligations under the Good Friday Agreement to ensure there is no hardening of the border.