A deal to smooth Britain’s departure from the European Union hung in the balance on Monday after diplomats indicated the bloc wanted more concessions from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and said a full agreement was unlikely this week.
Johnson says he wants to strike an exit deal at an EU summit on Thursday and Friday to allow an orderly departure on Oct. 31 but if an agreement is not possible he will lead the United Kingdom out of the club it joined in 1973 without a deal – even though parliament has passed a law saying he cannot do so.
EU politicians such as Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said a deal was possible and that much more work was needed. But EU diplomats were pessimistic about the chances of Johnson’s hybrid customs proposal for the Irish border riddle.
“We are not very optimistic,” a senior EU diplomat told Reuters.
After more than three years of Brexit crisis and tortuous negotiations that have claimed the scalps of two British prime ministers, Johnson will have to ratify any last-minute deal in parliament which will sit in an extraordinary session on Sunday for the first time since the 1982 Falklands War.
As EU ministers meet in Luxembourg ahead of the leaders’ summit, Johnson’s planned legislative agenda will be read out by Queen Elizabeth at the state opening of parliament.
If Johnson is unable to clinch a deal, an acrimonious divorce could follow that would divide the West, roil financial markets and test the cohesion of the United Kingdom.