EU demands ‘concrete proposals’ from Johnson amid signs of shift over Brexit

Jean-Claude Juncker and Boris Johnson will talk today to find a potential Brexit deal
Jean-Claude Juncker

Boris Johnson and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will talk today as efforts continue to find a Brexit deal.

The British Prime Minister has been urged to come up with “concrete proposals” on how he wants to achieve his aim of getting rid of the Irish backstop.

Mr Johnson is also sending his EU “sherpa” – his Europe adviser David Frost – for talks with Brussels officials tomorrow.

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said the phone call between Mr Johnson and Mr Juncker would be a chance to “touch base” following the G7 summit, which the commission president was unable to attend for health reasons.

She added: “More generally I think we have been saying that we stand ready to of course engage constructively with the UK on any concrete proposals that are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement, so this is exactly in the spirit of constructiveness and engagement that the two will speak later in the afternoon.”

The moves come after Mr Johnson said yesterday he was “marginally more optimistic” about the prospect of reaching a deal following meetings over the past week with key players including Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and European Council president Donald Tusk.

But there was still a “substantial disagreement” with Brussels over the terms of the existing deal, which has been rejected by British MPs.

The key issue for Mr Johnson remains removing the backstop – a contingency plan which would keep the UK closely aligned to EU rules in order to prevent a hard border in Ireland – from the Withdrawal Agreement his predecessor Theresa May reached with the EU.

British officials believe there has been a “rhetorical shift” in recent days from the EU side, who have previously viewed the Withdrawal Agreement and backstop as “sacrosanct”.

While sources do not yet believe there has been a substantial change in the EU’s position, the UK wants to use the perceived shift to prise open some space for negotiation.

Mr Johnson is due to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in early September for talks which are being viewed as crucial if there is to be any movement on the backstop issue.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mr Johnson believed there would be enough time to achieve a revised deal before the October 31 Brexit deadline.

“The Prime Minister has had good discussions with EU leaders both last week in France and in Germany, and at the weekend,” the spokeswoman said.

“There is a clear understanding now that the commitment to leave on October 31 is absolute but that the PM wants to do so with a deal.

“He has also been setting out very clearly the reasons why the backstop is unacceptable to us.

“What is clear is that if there is goodwill on both sides, and a determination to get things done, solutions to the backstop exist and the PM believes they should be discussed.”

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