European Union Council President Donald Tusk expressed new optimism Friday for a potential deal to allow Britain to exit the bloc, with the Oct. 31 deadline less than three weeks away.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, Thursday for talks Tusk said led to a “pathway to a deal” for the first time. Johnson and Varadkar met to discuss the Irish backstop, an assurance for a “soft” border between Ireland and Northern Ireland that’s been at the heart of the Brexit impasse for months.
EU and British negotiators met again in Belgium Friday hoping to further progress for an orderly exit.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, called his meeting with British Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay “constructive,” and said he would report what happened to the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group and EU ambassadors.
“But as already said, Brexit is like climbing a mountain,” Barnier said. “We need vigilance, determination and patience.”
Some felt this week talks were virtually dead after German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Johnson this week there wasn’t enough EU support for his alternative proposal to a backstop.
“I had a very good meeting today with the [Johnson] and our teams together — very positive and very promising,” Varadkar told reporters Thursday. “I am now absolutely convinced that both Ireland and Britain want there to be an agreement, that’s in the interests of Ireland, the U.K. and EU as a whole.”
Tusk remained cautious, saying Britain had yet to submit a “workable, realistic” alternative to the backstop.
“A week ago, I told Prime Minister Johnson that if there was no such proposal by today I would announce publicly there are no more chances, because of objective reasons, for a deal during the coming EU Council,” Tusk said Friday.
“However, [Thursday] when the [Varadkar and Johnson] met, they both saw for the first time a pathway to a deal. I have received promising signals from [Varadkar] that a deal is still possible.”