European Union officials expressed doubt on Thursday that the latest British proposals on Brexit could yield an agreement before an October 31 deadline, with one saying Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan “can’t fly” as it stands.
But the bloc was careful not to dismiss the proposals too soon and both sides are treading carefully to avoid any blame should the tortuous divorce process end in a crash.
More talks between both sides’ Brexit negotiators are due on Friday but the bloc has already made it clear that Mr. Johnson’s plans — which principally involve arrangements for the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland — are nowhere close to unlocking a deal.
They can only be a starting point to more talks, according to officials and diplomats dealing with Brexit in EU hub Brussels.
“It does not contain any decent solution for customs. And it erects a hard border on the island of Ireland,” said a senior EU official, saying the plan “can’t fly” as it stands.
An EU diplomat said the plan would need to be fundamentally reworked to become acceptable. Time was short before EU leaders meet in Brussels on October 17-18 for a make-or-break Brexit summit, the person said.
Mr. Johnson hopes to seal an agreement then and take Britain out of the bloc two weeks later.
However, the British Parliament has passed a law saying the country cannot leave without a deal and must ask for an extension if it gets nowhere at the EU summit. Mr. Johnson vows to take Britain out on October 31 but has not explained how he would get around that.
He has also pledged not to request another delay to Brexit, already postponed twice from its original date last March.
The EU is also worried about the lack of a parliamentary majority for any Brexit accord after a divorce deal it had struck with Mr. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was rejected three times in the House of Commons.
The European Parliament, which must sign off on any final Brexit deal, has a group of lawmakers dealing with Brexit known as the Brexit Steering Group (BSG, who met with the bloc’s negotiator Michel Barnier late on Wednesday.
“The BSG did not find these last minute proposals, in their current form, represent a basis for an agreement to which the European Parliament could give consent,” said the latest draft of the lawmakers’ statement seen by Reuters ahead of release.
“The BSG has grave concerns about the U.K. proposal, as tabled, both in terms of its content and timing.”
In Dublin, Irish Junior Finance Minister Patrick O’Donovan said Mr. Johnson’s offer was the basis for discussions but not of an agreement.
Talk with Irish PM
Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission — the EU’s executive negotiating Brexit for the other 27 member states — was due to talk to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar later on Thursday.
The European Central Bank’s Luis de Guindos said separately that markets may not be fully pricing in the negative impact of any disorderly Brexit.
“There are problematic points in the U.K.’s proposal and further work is needed. This work is for the U.K. to do, not the other way around,” Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said.
Britain, however, stressed it was the EU’s turn to move.