September 26, 2019 / 7:14 AM / 24 days ago

EU awaits 'legal and operational' Brexit ideas from UK - Barnier

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain has yet to provide “legal and operational” proposals that could break the impasse over its departure from the European Union, the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday.

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrives to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnsonr in Luxembourg, September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

“We are still ready to work on any new legal and operational proposal from the UK,” Barnier told reporters on arriving for talks on Brexit with European lawmakers.

Barnier declined to comment on the political crisis in Britain, where parliament resumed in an acrimonious session on Wednesday after the Supreme Court ruled Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended it unlawfully.

Barnier also told EU ambassador envoys that the bloc was still waiting for “workable ideas”, according to a diplomat briefed on the meeting.

Another said the envoys were “highly sceptical” that a deal can be had and that British proposals to replace the so-called backstop provision in the divorce treaty were “far from solving the border conundrum” on the island of Ireland.

European Council President Donald Tusk told Johnson in New York this week that Britain had a last chance to present serious and detailed proposals immediately after the Conservative Party conference beginning on Sunday, the sources said.

Otherwise there would not be enough time to agree a deal and EU leaders would not negotiate with Britain at an EU summit in Brussels on Oct. 17-18, they added.

Johnson insists he will take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.

Britain submitted its fourth technical paper to the EU this week, with proposals on customs arrangements after Brexit, diplomatic sources told Reuters, as London seeks to replace the Irish border backstop.

BLAME GAME

But the EU says London’s ideas so far - on food and animal checks, customs and regulatory controls, checks on manufactured goods and market surveillance, among others - fall short and are not acceptable as alternatives.

A third diplomat, who is familiar with the UK proposal, said it was not operational, would amount to the “disintegration” of EU checks on its external borders and create risks for the bloc’s cherished single market.

The backstop is anathema for many in Britain as it could tie the country to the EU’s trading rules for years to maintain an open Irish border and at the same time ensure the necessary controls between the bloc and Britain after they split.

Philippe Lamberts, a liberal EU lawmaker from Belgium, spared Johnson no criticism as he arrived for the meeting with Barnier.

“He’s not seeking a solution because a solution would mean first finding a compromise with the European Union, then building compromise in Westminster (the UK parliament) to pass an agreement,” Lamberts told reporters.

“So maybe his strategy is another one and I believe it has been all along ... to provoke a no-deal Brexit but in a way that would allow him to blame others - either Brussels or Westminster.”

Reporting by Jorrit Donner-Wittkopf and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood

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