EU and UK bid to save Brexit talks before key summit

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrives at the EU headquarters in Brussels on October 11, 2019 for a meeting with EU ambassadors. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2019

EU and UK bid to save Brexit talks before key summit

  • British Brexit minister Stephen Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier met for two hours in the Brussels headquarters of the EU
  • The meeting came one day after talks between PM Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar

BRUSSELS: British and EU negotiators held a “constructive” breakfast meeting Friday in a last-ditch bid to restart Brexit talks, as leaders insisted a deal might yet be possible despite time running out fast.
British Brexit minister Stephen Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier met for two hours in the Brussels headquarters of the European Union.
“We had a constructive meeting with Steve Barclay and the British team,” Barnier told reporters. “I have already said that the Brexit is like climbing a mountain and we need vigilance, determination and patience.”
A British spokesman also described the closed-door talks as a “constructive meeting.”
Neither side would reveal any detail about what was discussed, but a European diplomat told AFP: “At this stage, the less we hear, the better. If stuff starts leaking out, it means it’s not serious.”
Another European official close to the discussions suggested the restart was at an early stage, but that the process might suddenly accelerate: “We’re completing the qualifiers for the 100-meter dash.”
The meeting came one day after talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar, and just six days before the EU summit that is seen as the key date in efforts to find a deal before a chaotic divorce on October 31.
As the negotiators reviewed their options, the president of the European Council and host of next week’s Brussels summit Donald Tusk said that he would have pulled the plug on talks this Friday if Britain had not come forward with evidence of a workable proposal.
“However, yesterday, when the Irish taoiseach and the UK prime minister met they both saw, for the first time, a pathway to a deal. I have received promising signals from the taoiseach that a deal is still possible,” Tusk said, during a trip to Cyprus.
“Of course, there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up. But even the slightest chance must be used,” he warned.
The key sticking point in the Brexit negotiations is how to handle trade and customs on the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, and on the role of the British province’s devolved assembly.
After a meeting in northwest England on Thursday Johnson and Varadkar said they had “agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal.”
Varadkar later said separately the meeting was “very positive,” suggesting it would be a “short pathway, rather than a long one.”
The European Council summit starts on October 17 and, in normal circumstances, European diplomats would want draft texts of any agreements to be prepared before close of business on Friday.
Even if, as UK officials hope, Brussels shows flexibility on the timeline, they have yet to enter the “diplomatic tunnel” of final text negotiations.
After his “stock taking” breakfast with Barclay, Barnier will brief ambassadors from the other EU members on the state of play and then a skeptical Brexit steering group of the European Parliament.
“Barnier will have to say whether we can or can’t start negotiating a text,” a European source told AFP.
“After that, it’s a long road. It’s wacky to think we’d have a treaty text before the October 17 and 18 summit.”
But Varadkar appears to be looking slightly further forward, implying that he and Johnson are now aiming for a deal in the next three weeks.
“I think it’s possible for us to come to an agreement, to have a treaty agreed... by the end of October,” he said.


Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

Updated 14 November 2019

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined a sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks
  • Firebrand cleric leading the protests called for nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Anti-government protesters in Pakistan blocked major roads and highways across the country on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign.
The demonstrators — led by the leader of opposition party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have taken to the streets as the start of their “Plan B” to topple the government and ensure a general election after failing to push Khan out through a fortnight-long sit-in in Islamabad, which ended on Wednesday.
That same day, Rehman told his party workers to spread their protests to other parts of the country.
“This protest will continue not for a day but for a month, if our leadership instructs,” said JUI-F Secretary-General, Maulana Nasir Mehmood, to a group of protesters who blocked the country’s main Karakoram Highway — an important trade route between Pakistan and China that also connects the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province with its northern areas.
The JUI-F protesters also blocked other key routes in KP and a major highway connecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The party’s Balochistan chapter also announced its intention to block the highway connecting Pakistan to neighboring Iran.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls in the country following allegations of electoral fraud last year and the mismanagement of Pakistan’s economy. The government denies both charges.
Rehman is a veteran politician who was a member of the National Assembly for 20 years. He enjoys support in religious circles across the country. His party has yet to share a detailed plan regarding which roads will be closed when, or how long this new phase of protests will continue.
The JUI-F and other opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the public against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ruling party, which came to power last year promising 10 million new jobs for the youth, 5 million low-cost houses, and economic reforms to benefit the middle class.
Since then, Pakistan’s economy has nosedived, witnessing double-digit inflation and rampant unemployment. The government signed a $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has stabilized the deteriorating economy, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman ‘Plan B’ will fail like his ‘Plan A,’” Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a statement to the press.

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