EU tells UK its proposals do not provide basis for concluding agreement

EU declines to continue discussions with Johnson’s chief negotiator over weekend

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that if Great Britain were to request an extension to its Brexit deadline he would consider it, adding that an extension would be preferable to the UK crashing out of the European Union. Video: Reuters


The EU has declined to continue technical discussions involving British prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost over the weekend.

A European Commission source said the talks will continue on Monday and that the Brexit task force had made clear it still required “huge” clarifications before the full negotiating process can get under way.

“We have completed discussions with the UK for today. We gave our initial reaction to the UK’s proposals and asked many questions on the legal text,” a spokeswoman said.

“We will meet again on Monday to give the UK another opportunity to present its proposals in detail.”

The spokeswoman added that the proposals did not “provide a basis for concluding an agreement”.

An EU official said: “The UK often asks for meetings to keep [the] process going; we agree we should leave no stone unturned. But there is nothing useful that could be done this weekend.”

A commission official also warned that if the UK wants an agreement discussed by the EU summit, which starts on October 17th, then an agreement needs to be ready for distribution to capitals by next Friday.

Extension to deadline

Earlier on Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland was open to considering a potential extension to the Brexit deadline at the end of the month.

His comments come after papers submitted to a Scottish court on behalf of the British government said prime minister Boris Johnson would send a letter to the European Union asking for a Brexit delay if no divorce deal has been agreed by October 19th.

Mr Johnson accepts the terms of the Benn Act, which requires him to seek an extension if a deal has not been agreed with the EU by October 19th, according to the submission to Scotland’s highest court.

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After the reports emerged, Mr Johnson tweeted: “New deal or no deal – but no delay. #GetBrexitDone #LeaveOct31.”

Responding to the papers while on a visit to Copenhagen, Denmark, Mr Varadkar said he believes the EU would be willing to consider any such request but “only for a good reason”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and Mette Frederiksen, Danish prime minister, cycling in Copenhagen ahead of a meeting. Photograph: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and Mette Frederiksen, Danish prime minister, cycling in Copenhagen ahead of a meeting. Photograph: Getty Images

“My preference is that we come to an agreement that we have a deal and we can then begin the negotiations on the future relationship and free trade agreement.

“As I have always said, Brexit does not end with the UK leaving, it just moves to the next phase of negotiations. So my preference is that we have that agreement at the council in the middle of October.

“But if the UK government were to request an extension, I think we would consider that, of course we would consider it. I think most EU countries would really only consider it for a good reason.”

Mr Varadkar said an extension would be better than no deal.

Prime minister of Denmark Mette Frederisken said she would also prefer an agreement but would consider any request for an extension.

Mr Varadkar held a bilateral meeting with Ms Frederisken on Friday afternoon in which they discussed climate change, the EU budget and Brexit.

Speaking after the meeting, she said she did not think Ireland should be “put under pressure” ahead of the Brexit deadline.

“I think the rest of Europe should stand together with Ireland as we have done.”

Court case

The undertaking given by the British government to the Scottish court appears to contradict the prime minister’s earlier statements on the UK leaving the EU on October 31st regardless.

Downing Street refused to comment after the documents were read out during the case at the Court of Session.

The prime minister has publicly said “we will obey the law, and will come out on October 31st” in any event, without specifying how he would achieve the apparently contradictory goal – fuelling speculation that he had identified a loophole to get around the Benn Act.

The legal action – led by businessman Vince Dale, SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC and Jolyon Maugham QC – is asking the court to require Mr Johnson to seek an extension to avoid leaving the EU without a deal.

Mr Maugham told Sky News: “What we learned today is that the prime minister has promised the court, in his own name, that he will ask for an extension under the Benn Act if the conditions are satisfied, in other words if parliament has not before October 19th agreed a withdrawal agreement.

“He’s also promised the court that he will not frustrate the Benn Act, by which is meant that he will not send two letters, one saying ‘can I have an extension’, the other saying ‘please don’t give me one’, he won’t collude with foreign governments to attempt to persuade those foreign governments to veto an extension.”

However, Conservative MP Steve Baker said the statement “does not mean we will extend”.

“It does not mean we will stay in the EU beyond October 31st. We will leave.”