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Macron pours cold water on Johnson's proposals

By Earle Gale in London | China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-08 09:10

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speak during a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Aug 22, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

The prospect of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's proposed Brexit divorce deal being rubber-stamped by the European Union faded on the weekend when the French president said it needed an overhaul to stand any chance of success.

Emmanuel Macron gave the United Kingdom until the end of this week to come up with something better, in a move that threw cold water on the chances of the nation and the bloc thrashing out a deal before the UK's planned exit on Oct 31.

The Guardian newspaper quoted an official from the French government as saying Johnson had hoped to meet Macron, but the French president declined.

"Boris Johnson presented his latest proposals (on Sunday during a phone call with Macron)," the unnamed official said. "The president told him that the negotiations should continue swiftly with (EU chief negotiator) Michel Barnier's team in coming days, in order to evaluate at the end of the week whether a deal is possible that respects European Union principles."

A Downing Street spokesman told the Financial Times: "The PM said that this is the final opportunity to secure a deal ... but if this is to be possible, the EU must match the compromises that the UK has made in recent weeks and months."

Johnson unveiled his proposal last week, setting out his overall vision for the future relationship, including an attempt to solve the major sticking point of how best to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The plan calls for the use of technology and customs checks far from the physical border.

But EU officials have already said it is impractical and Mark Rutte, the Netherlands prime minister, reiterated in a tweet that the EU's member states will not accept an agreement that creates any sort of customs border on the island of Ireland.

Johnson wants the EU to use his proposals as a starting point for negotiations and hopes the two sides will thrash out a deal that the EU will approve at a summit on Oct 17-18 and that British lawmakers will also support. But there is little time left and the prime minister's chief Europe adviser, David Frost, has reportedly been told the EU will not conduct last-minute talks during the summit itself.

Latvia's prime minister, Arturs Krisjanis Karins, told the BBC the EU expects Johnson to make the next move.

"If the offer from the UK turns out to be a take-it-or-leave-it, it's going to be very difficult, I see, in agreeing," he said.

Johnson also put his case to Antonio Costa, Portugal's prime minister, and planned to lobby more EU leaders on Monday, while Frost was set to hold face-to-face talks with EU commission officials, and Stephen Barclay, the UK's Brexit secretary, planned visits to several EU capitals.

Back in the UK, members of Parliament in opposition to Johnson's government pressed on Monday for the publication of a 40-page legal description of Johnson's alternative Irish border plan. So far, they have only seen a seven-page summary.

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