Juncker says he's 'optimistic' as he meets Johnson for Brexit talks

16 September 2019, 07:36 | Updated: 25 October 2019, 10:50

Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker at the talks in Luxembourg today
Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker at the talks in Luxembourg today. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Boris Johnson met with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker today over a lunch of snails and cheese to discuss the next steps of Brexit.

Mr Johnson said he is cautious about progress as he sat down for his first face-to-face discussions with Mr Juncker since becoming Prime Minister.

Arriving for the talks, Mr Johnson told reporters: “Well, we're cautious - cautious.” Mr Juncker was earlier asked if he was confident of progress. "We will see," he replied.

He went on to say he was “optimistic” about their discussions.

The pair had a lunchtime appointment to discuss the UK’s exit from Europe.

A Downing Street source said the PM is keen to secure a deal by 18 October, but will "reject any delay offered."

The source added: "Any further extension would be a huge mistake. It is not just a question of the extra dither and delay - it is also the additional long months of rancour and division, and all at huge expense.

We must finally deliver on the 2016 referendum result." This is likely to anger MPs who passed a law earlier this month ordering Mr Johnson to ask for a Brexit extension until 31 January if a deal is not reached.

Johnson is preparing to tell the EU he will not delay Brexit any further
Johnson is preparing to tell the EU he will not delay Brexit any further. Picture: PA

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said he was working "flat out" to reach an agreement but reiterated that he would take the UK out of the bloc even if a deal cannot be reached at the European Council summit next month.

He said: "If we can make enough progress in the next few days, I intend to go to that crucial summit on October 17 and finalise an agreement that will protect the interests of business and citizens on both sides of the Channel, and on both sides of the border in Ireland.

Protesters gathered and chanted at Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker
Protesters gathered and chanted at Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker. Picture: PA

"I believe passionately that we can do it, and I believe that such an agreement is in the interests not just of the UK but also of our European friends.

"We have all spent too long on this question. And if we can get that deal, then of course there will be time for Parliament to scrutinise and approve it before the end of October.

"But be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal - the right deal for both sides - then the UK will come out anyway."

Today's meeting in Luxembourg will also be attended by the EU's negotiation Michel Barnier, while Mr Johnson will be flanked by Downing Street's Brexit representative David Frost and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay.

Previously, Mr Johnson has claimed he is "cautiously optimistic" about achieving a deal before the deadline.

Mr Juncker said last week there was no "reason to be optimistic" about a new deal being struck
Mr Juncker said last week there was no "reason to be optimistic" about a new deal being struck. Picture: PA

However, last week Mr Juncker crushed those expectations and said there were no "reasons to be optimistic".

Downing Street has sought to downplay speculation that Monday's meeting could be a breakthrough moment, and Mr Barclay said on Sunday that there was still "significant work" to do to reach an agreement.

However, he said a "landing zone" for a deal was in sight, telling Sky News that there had been "extensive talks" at a technical and a political level.

Mr Barclay also suggested the transition period could be extended beyond 2020 to resolve issues relating to the backstop.

Over the weekend, Mr Johnson likened Britain leaving the EU to the Incredible Hulk, telling the Mail On Sunday: "Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be - and that is the case for this country."But his comparison was described as "infantile" by the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt, who questioned: "Is the EU supposed to be scared by this?"

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