Britain and EU to hold last-ditch Brexit talks as deadline looms

EU's Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier attends a plenary session on preparations for the next EU leaders' summit, at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 9, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 09 October 2019

Britain and EU to hold last-ditch Brexit talks as deadline looms

  • Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay will meet his EU counterpart Michel Barnier in Brussels on Thursday
  • Britain is due to leave the EU on October 31, more than three years after a landmark referendum

LONDON: Britain and the European Union on Wednesday agreed to hold last-ditch talks aimed at securing a Brexit deal with just days left to thrash out an agreement, as each side trades accusations of a failure to compromise.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay will meet his EU counterpart Michel Barnier in Brussels on Thursday in an attempt to break the impasse before an October 17-18 summit.
After tempers frayed on both sides of the Channel on Tuesday, Barnier promised the bloc “will remain calm, respectful and constructive.”
“I think a deal is possible and very difficult but possible,” he told Sky News television.
Britain is due to leave the EU on October 31, more than three years after a landmark referendum that has dominated domestic politics and divided the nation.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to take the country out of the bloc after nearly five decades of integration — with or without a withdrawal agreement.
But his proposals for a revised deal have not been well received in Brussels, and a new British law could force him to ask for more time.
On Tuesday, Downing Street sources broke diplomatic protocol by leaking details of a private conversation between Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel was alleged to have said a deal was “overwhelmingly unlikely” without further UK compromise on its plans to keep open the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
Berlin refused to comment but an irate European Council chief Donald Tusk accused Johnson of playing a “stupid blame game” and jeopardizing the future of both Britain and the EU.
Johnson is also expected to meet his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar this week, with few signs Dublin is prepared to move on its position about border arrangements.
Finding a way to keep the frontier between north and south open without keeping Northern Ireland tied to EU trade rules has long been the main sticking point in talks.
The prospect of a hard border has raised fears that it could reignite unrest between pro-Irish republicans and unionists that killed thousands over three decades from the late 1960s.
Ireland on Tuesday announced it had set aside 1.2 billion euros in its 2020 budget as a contingency for no-deal, which has been seen as a sign of its pessimism about the talks.
Varadkar said it would be “very difficult to secure an agreement by next week.”
Anti-Brexit campaigners in Britain believe Johnson, who took over from Theresa May in July, is using the EU talks to play a political game to cement his credentials as a euroskeptic leader.
Speculation is rife that a snap general is on the cards, where he could exploit apparent EU intransigence over negotiations on the campaign trail.
Despite the law demanding he ask the EU to delay Brexit if he does not get a deal, he has previously said he would “rather die in a ditch.”
Amid speculation he could exploit a legal loophole to fulfil his pledge to “get Brexit done,” campaigners have gone to court to try to force him to obey the law.
But judges at Scotland’s highest civil court this week made two rulings stating that Johnson’s assurances to the court that he would comply were enough.
The law states that any Brexit delay must be requested by October 19 — the day after the summit — and the government has called for parliament to sit that day.
It will be the first Saturday sitting in 37 years and only the fifth since 1939.
The last weekend session was on April 3, 1982 after the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory.
Other sittings were called for the outbreak of World War II and the Suez Crisis of 1956.


Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

Updated 21 January 2020

Karzai urges Ghani to drop truce as pre-condition for talks with Taliban

  • Ex-president says Taliban offer to reduce violence a ‘major development’

KABUL: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged President Ashraf Ghani to drop the pre-condition of cease-fire to begin talks with the Taliban amid high hope that the US and Taliban delegates will sign a deal following more than a year of secret discussions.

Speaking in an interview with BBC local service, Karzai said the government “should not block intra-Afghan dialogue under the pretext of cease-fire.” He said the Taliban offer for reduction in violence as the group says is nearing to ink the deal with American diplomats in Qatar, was a “major development.”

He said Ghani needed to accept the Taliban offer.

Ghani says truce is a must ahead of starting any negotiations with the Taliban calling reduction in violence a general term and arguing that such a call by the Taliban political leaders in Qatar only goes to show that they have control over field commanders back in Afghanistan.

The Taliban say the group will announce truce when the intra-Afghan dialogue begins which will happen after Washington sets timetable for withdrawal of the troops.

Washington at least on one occasion called off the talks with the Taliban in Qatar due to Taliban attacks back in Afghanistan as discussions continued in Qatar despite none of the warring sides having committed to halt offensives during the talks.

Ghani’s government has been sidelined from all rounds of talks between the Taliban delegates and US diplomats led by Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar. There has also been rift between Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with the president in the National Unity Government, on the pre-condition of cease-fire.

Unlike Ghani, Abdullah is happy with reduction of violence. Talking in a meeting of council of ministers, Abdullah on Monday indirectly said Ghani had taken the peace process in his monopoly.

 “Peace is not one person’s monopoly, one person’s wish — but it is a collective desire, and the people of Afghanistan have the right to take a position regarding the peace process,” said Abdullah.