Brexit deal prospect 'touch and go'


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that the prospect of a Brexit deal is "touch and go'' as other European Union governments grasp the problems Britain has with the withdrawal agreement.

Johnson said on the sidelines of the summit that in the last few days "there has been a dawning realization in Brussels and other European capitals what the shape of the problem is" for Britain.'

The British parliament has three times rejected a Brexit deal that Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, had agreed upon with the EU. Among the key issues is how to prevent the return of a border between EU member Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland.

Johnson said: "I think it's going to be touch and go but the important thing is to get ready to come out without a deal.''

Johnson and European Council president Donald Turk sought out a bit of common ground during their meeting, a day after a testy exchange.

The long-running tensions over Britain's departure got more personal on Saturday. Johnson and Tusk each suggested that the other is bent on scuttling the chances that Britain will break away from the single market of 500 million people with an agreement.

But yesterday, the exchange was a bit friendlier. Johnson said he and Tusk largely agreed on the world's major issues, regardless of whether there is a deal on Brexit.

Tusk agreed Britain and Europe would remain close regardless of what happens at the October 31 deadline. Johnson, in optimistic mood after meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in the past week, sat down with Tusk, his first meeting on Brexit with an EU official.

Johnson started the day with breakfast with US President Donald Trump, who described him as "the right man for the job" to take the fight to the Europeans.

It will not be easy. While EU leaders are politely listening to Johnson, they have given no indication they are ready to give him the concessions he is asking for.

Johnson began his meeting with Tusk saying that the two men had been in "completely glutinous agreement on most of the issues that have been raised" so far at the G7 - a demonstration of "the closeness of the UK to our European friends which will persist beyond October 31, whatever happens." Tusk replied that he could not agree more.

But in broadcast interviews, Johnson hinted at the barriers. He said if Britain does end up crashing out, the 39 billion pound (HK$375.6 billion) divorce bill "is no longer, strictly speaking, owed."

Tusk has been one of the most vocal critics of pro-Brexit British politicians like Johnson, saying in February "a special place in hell" was reserved for those who promoted it without a plan.

On Saturday he said Johnson risked going down in history as "Mr No Deal." Johnson shot back that Tusk would be "Mr No Deal" unless the EU can offer some concessions to the British.

Part of Johnson's strategy is to line up a trade deal with the U.S. to help show the benefits of leaving the EU.

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