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Signs of convergence in Brexit talks after Johnson’s backstop ideas

Hopes for averting a no-deal Brexit looked marginally higher on Friday with the EU and Britain's lead Brexit negotiators meeting in Brussels, one day after London handed over its suggestions for tweaking the withdrawal agreement.

Hopes for averting a no-deal Brexit looked marginally higher on Friday with the EU and Britain’s lead Brexit negotiators meeting in Brussels, one day after London handed over its suggestions for tweaking the withdrawal agreement.

The European Union’s Michel Barnier and Britain’s Steve Barclay discussed the backstop – the clause in Britain’s divorce bill designed to avoid a hard Irish border – as well as the ideas put forward by London, according to the European Commission.

No concrete progress was made, but Barclay spoke of “a common purpose, we both want to see a deal.”

“A very clear message has been given both by [European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker] and the [British] prime minister who want to see the teams reach a deal,” he added.

With the clock running down on Britain’s planned October 31 departure, Brussels and London are at an impasse. Britain wants to see the backstop dropped for fear it could be bound indefinitely to EU customs rules, while the EU insists on the need for guarantees.

For weeks, Brussels said it could not consider renegotiating the backstop without a formal proposal from Britain. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson submitted documents outlining tentative suggestions on Thursday, though these stopped short of a full proposal.

The EU executive said Friday it is open to examining alternatives to the backstop, as long as “any such proposals meet all the objectives of the backstop.”

“It is essential that there is a fully workable and legally operational solution included” in the exit deal, the commission said, adding that talks are to continue.

“We are still far from an agreement that could match EU red lines, but there might be a window of opportunity for a deal,” a diplomatic source told dpa on Friday.

Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May struck the deal with the EU, which has been rejected three times by British parliament. The new premier has vowed to withdraw Britain from the EU, with or without a deal, on October 31.

Johnson is due to meet with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in New York during the United Nations General Assembly on Monday.

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