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As hopes of a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations fade, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson scheduled an emergency sitting of the British Parliament for Saturday Oct. 19. The crisis meeting will come the day after Johnson returns from a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels, giving U.K. politicians the chance to debate the way forward.
With just 12 days left before the country is due to leave the EU, and a deal looking unlikely, that rare Saturday session in the House of Commons is set to be fraught as MPs weigh their options: delaying Brexit, crashing out with no deal, or trying to bring down the government.
In Brussels, the talks are stuck and have descended into a blame game between Johnson’s administration and EU leaders. Neither side has yet formally pulled out.
Parliament to sit on Saturday Oct. 19 after crunch EU summit. Parliament has only sat four times on a Saturday since 1939.Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay to hold talks with EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier on ThursdayBarnier: a deal is “very difficult, but possible”Johnson’s DUP allies reject mooted European compromise plan for Irish borderCourt in Edinburgh postpones ruling on forcing Johnson to request Brexit delayBrexit Talks Go On Hold as Leaders Focus on Pinning Blame
Ireland Holds Out For Sustainable Brexit Solution (2 p.m.)
Ireland needs a solution to the border with Northern Ireland that “can be sustained into the future” after Brexit, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said in a Bloomberg TV interview in Dublin. Ireland still requires a deal that preserves “the principles behind the backstop,” he said.
Any proposal to seek the consent of Northern Ireland tied must “respect the role” of the two communities of Northern Ireland, Donohoe added. The U.K. plan in its current form could give an effective veto to just one political party in the region.
Merkel Not Breaking Code of Silence (1:30 p.m.)
Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, kept getting pressed about the now-famous morning phone call. The U.K. side have given their take on it but Germans are not, but one can try and read between the lines.
Here is what he said to reporters in Berlin:
“We have no new position on Brexit, neither the chancellor nor the government. This is what we’ve always said. The government will work to find a solution until the last possible moment, so that we can have an orderly U.K. exit out of the EU and avoid the scenario of a no-deal or disorderly exit, because that is the worst-case scenario for all involved.”
Asked more pointedly whether the chancellor said what the British press (or Downing Street) said she said: “A private conversation is a private conversation.” He went on to say, again, that Germany’s position hasn’t changed.
Barnier: Deal Is ‘Difficult But Possible’ (12:15 p.m.)
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said a deal with the U.K. is “very difficult but possible” as he prepared to meet with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on Thursday.
“The EU will remain calm, vigilant, respectful and constructive. The technical talks continue and I’m invited for working lunch with Steve Barclay tomorrow,” Barnier told reporters on Wednesday. “I think a deal is possible, very difficult but possible.”
Irish Backstop Can’t Have time limit, EU Says (12 p.m.)
EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said he and his European Commission colleagues had discussed Brexit and all agreed the latest British proposal was inadequate. The Irish backstop can’t have a time limit, Oettinger told reporters in Brussels.
Boris Johnson Has a Plan B for Brexit If the EU Rejects His Deal
Reported EU Plan Non-Runner, DUP Says (11:35 a.m.)
The DUP moved quickly to kill off a reported move by the EU to break the deadlock by giving the Northern Ireland Assembly a say over how long EU customs rules last (see 11:20 a.m.). Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said this would allow Sinn Fein keep the region bound to the EU indefinitely.
“This is worse than Mrs May’s deal, which at least contained the pretense of these arrangements only being used as an insurance policy,” he said in a statement. “This proposal confirms the intended permanency of keeping Northern Ireland in the EU and removing us from the United Kingdom.”
Scottish Court Delays Decision on Extension (11:25 a.m.)
Scottish judges held off intervening in the Brexit furor by postponing a decision on whether they need to commit to sending a letter requesting an extension, giving Boris Johnson a temporary legal victory.
The judges ruled that Johnson hadn’t acted unlawfully but left the door open to a new case if he fails to reach a deal with the EU and refuses to request an extension by Oct. 19, as he would be required to by law. Under a power peculiar to Scottish law, known as nobile officium, Scottish courts can intervene in any way they see fit to fix an outcome.
At the hearing in Edinburgh, Johnson’s lawyers promised he will obey the law and request an extension from the EU, while also arguing that there’s nothing to stop the prime minister continuing to say he intends to leave on Oct. 31.
Potential Backstop Offer Floated (11:20 a.m.)
The EU may be willing to make a major concession to Boris Johnson over the Irish border by giving the Northern Ireland Assembly a say over how long EU customs rules last in the province, the Times newspaper reported.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, the bloc is dangling the prospect of the assembly in Belfast being able to pull Northern Ireland out of the so-called backstop mechanism, aimed at preventing a hard Irish border, but it would need to vote at some point after a few years with a double majority, an EU official said.
This would mean it would need to be approved by both nationalist and unionist politicians, something that was immediately rejected by Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman for the DUP. Sinn Fein also appeared to reject the idea.
It would also need Johnson to agree to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union until then, and possibly forever, something he’s said he’s not willing to do.
The idea is not an official EU position and would need the approval of the Irish government, but officials say it is seen as a potential compromise and that has been made clear to U.K. negotiators. Bloomberg reported last week that the EU was considering offering to time-limit the backstop linked to the assembly’s consent.
Barclay and Barnier to Meet on Thursday (11 a.m.)
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will travel to Brussels for talks with European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday.
The meeting is being seen as a stock-take, rather than an indication of a breakthrough — or breakdown — in negotiations, according to British officials.
Parliament Set For Emergency Saturday Sitting (Earlier)
MPs will sit in emergency session in London on Saturday Oct. 19, just 12 days before Britain is set to leave the EU, the day after a crunch summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
If Boris Johnson strikes a deal with the EU, it will be a chance for politicians to vote on it, but if he doesn’t, it could also present an opportunity for the premier to ask Parliament to sanction a no-deal Brexit.
Parliament has already passed a law requiring Johnson to ask for an extension to negotiations if no deal is reached by Oct. 19, but he could use the debate as an opportunity to set out ways he plans to get around the so-called Benn Act and deliver on his promise leave the EU on Oct. 31.
It will be the first time the House of Commons has met at a weekend since 1982, when MPs debated the Falklands War.
Denmark Increases Support for SMEs (Earlier)
Just two days after Boris Johnson called Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to discuss Brexit, the Business Ministry in Copenhagen announced it is spending an extra 50 million kroner ($7.4 million) to help the country’s small and medium-sized companies deal with the fallout from the U.K.’s departure from the EU.
“A no-deal Brexit continues to be a high-risk scenario and that’s why we need to step up preparations,” Business Minister Simon Kollerup told reporters. “Denmark will be hit really hard by a no-deal Brexit, especially if we are not prepared enough.”
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–With assistance from Tim Ross, Morten Buttler, Kitty Donaldson, Patrick Donahue and Anna Edwards.
To contact the reporters on this story: Ian Wishart in Brussels at email@example.com;Rodney Jefferson in Edinburgh at firstname.lastname@example.org;Dara Doyle in Dublin at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org, Thomas Penny
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