British, EU leaders meet to discuss new Brexit proposal

Sept. 20 (UPI) — Leaders of the European Union are speaking of a renewed, yet cautious, optimism that there will be an agreement in place by the time Britain leaves the alliance six weeks from now.

British Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay is set to meet Friday with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Belgium, to work on a deal.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Sky News he believes “we can have a deal.” The EU chief said he’s also received new documents from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlining a new proposal.

Perhaps the overriding obstacle to an agreement so far has involved the Irish “backstop,” guarantees to keep a “soft” trade border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Thursday, Juncker said he has no “erotic relation” to the backstop and would be willing to remove it in favor of an alternative.

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney, however, is skeptical of the reported progress.

“We are not close to a deal,” he said.

Juncker’s five-year term as EU Commission president ends Oct. 31, the same day Britain is set to leave the EU. Johnson met with Juncker earlier this week for a two-hour working lunch.

“I had a meeting with Boris Johnson that was rather positive,” Juncker said. “I am doing everything to have a deal because I think this would have catastrophic consequences for at least one year.

“We are prepared for no-deal, and I hope Britain is prepared as well — but I’m not so sure.”

Juncker said any deal would include Northern Ireland continuing to follow EU trade rules on food and agriculture.

“It’s the basis of a deal. It is the starting and the arrival point,” he said. “The internal market has to be preserved in its entirety.”

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