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Boris Johnson in race against time to strike Brexit deal

Press Trust of India  |  London 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his team on Wednesday entered into a race against time to try and clinch an agreement with the European Union (EU) in order for Britain to leave the economic bloc by the October 31 Brexit deadline with a deal in place.

Johnson took charge at Downing Street on the central pledge of getting Brexit done within the latest deadline, with or without a deal.

His hands have since been somewhat tied after the UK Parliament voted to force him to seek a deadline extension unless a deal had been agreed in time for a crucial EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Talks between the UK's Brexit team, led by secretary of state for leaving the EU Stephen Barclay, and the EU negotiators led by Michel Barnier entered a crunch phase on Wednesday to try and thrash out something that the leaders of the 28 EU member-countries can green-light during their two-day summit.

However, differences remain on proposed customs and tax arrangements between EU nation Ireland and UK territory Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

Johnson must also persuade the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up his minority government, and hard Brexiteers within his own Conservative party to back any deal with the EU to get it through Parliament.

The issue of the Irish border and how to handle the flow of goods and people across it once it becomes the border between the UK and the EU after Brexit, which had resulted in the so-called backstop in former British Prime Minister Theresa May's rejected agreement, has long been a sticking point in the negotiations.

Johnson had tabled an alternative, which is akin to a free trade agreement arrangement, and has been pushing for it to be accepted in time for the EU summit.

Ireland's Indian-origin Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, has been a crucial player in the final stages of the talks and had another call with Johnson on Wednesday amid reports the EU could organise another summit next week if necessary.

"I do think we are making progress, but there are issues yet to be resolved," said Varadkar, signalling some hope for a final pact.

If Johnson gets an agreement, he is likely to ask British MPs to back it and agree the next steps in an emergency sitting of Parliament on Saturday dubbed Super Saturday because of the rare weekend sitting of the House of Commons.

But British ministers have yet to confirm the session, which would be the first on a weekend for 37 years, because it all hangs in the balance over events in Brussels.

This week marks another watershed moment in the Brexit saga, triggered with the June 2016 referendum in which 52 per cent of voters in the UK backed leaving the EU and 48 per cent voted to remain.

The UK then triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which had set the clock ticking for it exit by March-end this year.

However, MPs failed to agree on the exit deal struck by then premier May three times and since then Britain has missed a June-end deadline for Brexit as well, with the latest EU extension bringing the timeline up to end-October.

However, a lot still remains uncertain and hanging in the balance as the October 31 Brexit deadline now remains just weeks away.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, October 16 2019. 20:55 IST