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Johnson, Juncker talks deliver no Brexit breakthrough

A meeting between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker failed to deliver any tangible progress on Brexit on Monday, with Luxembourg premier Xavier Bettel calling the ongoing uncertainty a "nightmare."

Luxembourg, 16 September 2019 (dpa/MIA) – A meeting between British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker failed to deliver any tangible progress on Brexit on Monday, with Luxembourg premier Xavier Bettel calling the ongoing uncertainty a “nightmare.”

Johnson’s lunch meeting with Juncker, at a restaurant in his native Luxembourg, was their first face-to-face encounter since Johnson took over in July with a promise to lead Britain out of the European Union on October 31.

Johnson has vowed not to further postpone Britain’s EU departure date, while refusing to accept the terms of a deal previously negotiated with Brussels aimed at smoothing the transition.

The British premier hopes to strike a new Brexit deal with EU leaders at a summit next month, but European capitals have been frustrated at the lack of concrete proposals out of London.

Over lunch, Juncker told Johnson that it is Britain’s “responsibility to come forward with legally operational solutions” that are compatible with the Brexit divorce deal already negotiated with London, the commission said in a statement following their talks.

“President Juncker underlined the commission’s continued willingness and openness to examine whether such proposals meet the objectives of the backstop. Such proposals have not yet been made,” the statement added.

Bettel was blunter in a press conference following a meeting he had with Johnson later in the day.

“We need more than just words. We need a legally operable text to work on as soon as possible if we want to meet the October deadline,” Bettel told reporters, as well as a crowd of anti-Brexit protesters gathered outside his office.

“You can’t hold the future hostage for party political gains,” Bettel added, standing next to an empty lectern reserved for Johnson. The British premier had left directly after the meeting, accompanied by chants and jeers from the demonstrators.

Johnson said he had decided not to take part in the outdoor press conference due to the protest noise. “I think our point might have been drowned out,” he later told reporters gathered outside the British embassy in Luxembourg.

Downing Street issued a statement on Monday’s talks, describing Johnson’s encounter with Juncker as “constructive.”

“The leaders agreed that the discussions needed to intensify and that meetings would soon take place on a daily basis,” the statement said.

Political talks would also resume between EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart Stephen Barclay, who were both present at the meeting with Juncker, it added.

London’s main objection regards the so-called backstop aimed at preventing the emergence of border controls between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. The open border is at the core of a peace deal for the divided island.

The backstop is a form of insurance policy that would bind Britain to various EU rules if no better solution is found to preserve an open border.

Johnson has said he is “cautiously optimistic” about striking a new deal, while Juncker has expressed scepticism about finding alternative arrangements that could replace the backstop.

Without a transitional Brexit deal, EU rules cease to apply in Britain overnight, likely causing disruption and serious economic costs on both sides of the border.

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