Attempt to bridge great divide

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 17 Sep 2019

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met European Union chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks yesterday, insisting a Brexit deal is possible, despite deep skepticism from European capitals with just six weeks to go before departure day.

After a weekend in which he compared himself to comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader enjoyed a genteel working lunch of snails and salmon in Luxembourg with the EU Commission president.

Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.

But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any legally operable proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.

As he shook hands with Johnson, Juncker declared himself "cautiously optimistic" and insisted that Europe never loses patience despite the tortuous Brexit saga dragging on over three years.

Finland's European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, who was chairing an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, gave a more downbeat assessment, repeating that London has not come up with detailed ideas for replacing the so-called "Irish backstop" section of the divorce deal. "The European Union is always ready to negotiate when a proper proposal from the UK side is presented," Tuppurainen said. "So far I haven't seen any proposal that would compensate the backstop."

The European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson's demand that the backstop clause be stripped from the deal.

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