Addressing MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday on the current state of negotiations with the UK, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said his discussions with Boris Johnson, during their meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, had been “friendly, constructive and in part, positive”.
He told deputies, "You will hardly be surprised to learn that the Prime Minister assured me that he continues to want an agreement but [warned] that whatever happens, the UK will leave the EU on 31st Oct, with or without an agreement That is why the risk of a no deal is palpable. "
Turning to face the Eurosceptic Brexit party MEPs in the Chamber, the Commission president said that with the very real threat of No Deal, he now believed it was “better now to focus on what we can do in terms of concluding a deal, something that is desirable and still in my view possible."
Referring to the Irish Backstop as an “operational solution to a practical problem” caused directly by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Juncker said he told Johnson, that he had “no emotional attachment” to the Irish Backstop - the key issue currently blocking an agreement.
“But I made it clear that I do have an intimate commitment to its objectives. I Invited the Prime Minister to make concrete, operational, textual proposals on alternative ways in which Backstop goals can be met.”
The Commission is prepared to work “day in, day out” to break the current deadlock, he said, but warned, “I’m not sure we’ll get there, but what I do know is that we have to keep trying. I asked the British Prime Minister to spell out the alternative arrangements that he is envisaging.”
Despite suggestions from Johnson that the EU could change its position on the Irish Backstop, Juncker warned, “The EU has shown great unity of purpose in the Brexit negotiations with solidarity with those Member States most affected. This unity is our most precious resource and our greatest asset. It will continue to guide me over the next weeks.”
“It is better now to focus on what we can do in terms of concluding a deal, something that is desirable and still in my view possible” Jean-Claude Juncker
In a swipe at Johnson, chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said, “I don’t think that we should be spending time pretending to negotiate. I think we need to move forward with determination, cooperation and transparency.”
The human, social, political, financial, economic and legal consequences of Brexit were not theoretical and should not be underestimated, Barnier warned.
“If the UK leaves without a deal these questions don’t just disappear. They will all still need to be settled prior to a future relationship with the UK.”
“We will pursue the Brexit negotiations with responsibility, honesty and determination.”
Responding to Johnson’s suggestion that the Irish Backstop was undemocratic, Barnier said, “we need a legally-operative solution in the Withdrawal Agreement, which fully responds to the risks created by Brexit.”
“I don’t think that we should be spending time pretending to negotiate. I think we need to move forward with determination, cooperation and transparency” Michel Barnier
"We don’t want to go back to a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; we want to protect the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement fully and we want to protect the integrity of our single market.”
“The UK government has outlined the aspects of the Backstop they don’t like. That’s not enough, however, to move towards achieving a solution.”