EU’s Juncker says Britain will be responsible if no Brexit deal

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addresses the plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 22 October 2019. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

Commission President Juncker has said he and the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier were doing all they could to get a Brexit deal, and if they failed it would be Britain’s responsibility.

In an interview with a German newspaper, Juncker said he and Barnier were working intensively for a deal, because it would be a catastrophe for Britain and Europe if Britain left the EU without an organised withdrawal process.

“Our chief negotiator Michel Barnier and I are doing everything possible to get an agreement,” he told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper. “But if we don’t succeed in the end, the responsibility would lie exclusively on the British side.”

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31. Officials in Brussels say Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made little progress in negotiating a new exit deal to replace the one agreed by his predecessor Theresa May, but which was rejected three times by the British parliament.

Juncker added that negotiations on a future trade relationship between Britain and the EU would be greatly complicated by a disorderly Brexit.

“We will want to and need to seal a free trade agreement,” he said. “But that won’t happen just like that, as some in Britain imagine. Some of the trade deals we sealed in my term of office took many years to reach.”

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On the other side of the debate, Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser, said on Thursday the current Brexit maelstrom was a “walk in the park” compared to the 2016 EU referendum, saying there was no pressure and they were enjoying it, the Daily Telegraph said.

Dominic Cummings played a key role in masterminding the leave camp to victory in the vote three years ago and joined Johnson’s staff after he took office in July since when the already chaotic Brexit process has become even more confused.

Johnson has vowed that Britain will leave the European Union on Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal, but parliament has passed a law to compel him to seek an extension if he has not gotten an agreement by Oct. 19.

At a book launch for a businessman who supported the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, Cummings rejected a suggestion that the government would back a “soft” Brexit because of the pressure to get a deal by Johnson’s deadline at the end of October.

“To put your mind absolutely at rest on that we are not under pressure at all. The referendum was pressure, the referendum was difficult,” Cummings said, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“This is a walk in the park compared to that. All the Vote Leave team, we are enjoying this, we are going to win, we are going to leave, don’t worry,” he said in a rare public appearance.

In 2016, 17.4 million voters, or 52%, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48%, voted to remain. The country and parliament remain bitterly divided, with no majority support among lawmakers for the main options: a deal, a no-deal exit, a second referendum, or remaining in the EU.

On Tuesday, Johnson suffered a humiliating defeat in Britain’s top court which ruled his suspension of parliament was unlawful, a decision which led to the reconvening of the hostile legislature where he has no majority and has lost a succession of votes.

In a febrile and vitriolic session on Wednesday, Johnson was accused of inflaming tensions which had led to death threats against lawmakers by using words such as surrender and betrayal in his description of those who opposed Brexit.

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Johnson has declined to apologise and said delivering Brexit would “lance the boil”. Cummings agreed, saying many lawmakers and those in London were out of touch with the sentiment of the rest of the country.

“The MPs (lawmakers) said we will have a referendum and we will respect the result. Then they spent three years swerving all over the shop. It is not surprising that some people are angry about it,” the Telegraph quoted him as saying.

“For me it says that fundamentally a lot of people in parliament are more of out touch with the country now than they were in summer 2016.”

Cummings, the key figure in Johnson’s Brexit strategy, has been cast by allies as a ruthless strategist who cares little for the conventions of traditional British politics and by enemies variously as an anarchist, Britain’s Rasputin or a political vandal.

He gave no indication of what his plans for Brexit were, but said the current fevered atmosphere could only be addressed by parliament delivering on the 2016 vote.

“If anybody thinks that turning around after three years of abject failure in parliament and then saying ‘no, we are sorry everyone we have completely failed let’s have another vote’. If they think that is going to work and that is going to wash they will get a terrible, terrible shock,” he said.

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