No Brexit breakthrough as Tusk, Johnson meet in New York

Donald Tusk (L), President of the European Council, and Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, meet during the 2019 Climate Action Summit which is being held ahead of the General Debate of the General Assembly of the United Nations at United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 23 September 2019. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated a call for “flexibility” from the EU in Brexit talks during a meeting with Council President Donald Tusk in New York Monday (23 September) that failed to yield a breakthrough.

Johnson and Tusk met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly as Britain races towards its October 31 departure without an exit agreement and the prospect of economic disruption.

The British prime minister underlined to Tusk that his preference is for an exit agreement, a Downing Street spokesperson said, adding that the pair discussed finding an alternative to the so-called “Irish backstop.”

They also discussed three papers recently submitted by London with ideas on replacing the backstop provisions in the Brexit deal struck last year but rejected by British lawmakers.

“The Prime Minister emphasized that in order to secure a deal we will now need to see movement and flexibility from the EU,” said the spokesman.

“The leaders agreed to keep in touch over the coming weeks,” they added.

Tusk tweeted that there had been, “No breakthrough. No breakdown,” adding that there was “no time to lose.”

The meeting came as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Monday that London’s current position did not offer any “basis to find an agreement” on leaving the bloc.

He said it was “difficult to see how we can arrive at a legally operative solution which fulfils all the objectives of the backstop.”

The “backstop” is intended to guarantee that there is no hard border between EU member Ireland and the UK’s province of Northern Ireland and to protect the EU’s single market.

The British government has admitted leaving without an exit agreement could cause food shortages and spark civil unrest.

Johnson also held a 30-minute meeting with Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium, in which Brexit was discussed, the spokesperson for the British prime minister said. Michel is the President-elect of the European Council, due to replace Tusk on 1 December.

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