LONDON • Mr Boris Johnson will hold face-to-face talks with European Union chief Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg on Monday, officials said yesterday, as the British Prime Minister bids to broker a Brexit compromise ahead of the Oct 31 exit deadline.
The British leader said in a speech to the Convention of the North conference in Rotherham yesterday that he and Mr Juncker will discuss, along with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier, the "rough shape" of the divorce deal.
"There is the rough shape of a deal to be done... I am cautiously optimistic," Mr Johnson said.
It will be the first meeting between Mr Johnson and Mr Juncker since the British Premier took office in July.
EU spokesman Natasha Bertaud told reporters that the two would have a working lunch that was arranged by "common accord".
Meanwhile, Britain's Speaker of Parliament John Bercow has warned Mr Johnson not to disobey the law by refusing to ask the EU for a Brexit delay and vowed to thwart any bid to circumvent legislation.
Parliament passed a law earlier this month aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit, but Mr Johnson is adamant Britain will still leave the EU on schedule with or without a withdrawal agreement.
Mr Bercow said disobeying the law "would be the most terrible example to set to the rest of society", according to Britain's Press Association news agency. In a speech in London on Thursday, Mr Bercow warned that if the government comes close to doing so, Parliament "would want to cut off such a possibility and do so forcefully".
"If that demands additional procedural creativity in order to come to pass, it is a racing certainty that this will happen, and that neither the limitations of the existing rule book nor the ticking of the clock will stop it doing so," he added.
Mr Johnson refuses to sign off on a Brexit deal that includes the "backstop", a compromise intended to keep the contentious Irish border open for trade and crossings in all post-Brexit scenarios. It was accepted by his predecessor Theresa May, but repeatedly failed to win backing in the British Parliament.
Eurosceptics fear the stop-gap measures designed for the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland would keep Britain indefinitely trapped in the bloc's trade zone.
The EU-Britain gap over Brexit remains "very wide", Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said yesterday.
"We always said we are willing to explore alternative arrangements... But so far I think it is fair to say that what we are seeing falls very far short of what we need," Mr Varadkar told Ireland's RTE radio.
The Times reported yesterday that the DUP, a small Northern Irish party that had helped the ruling Conservatives in London form a majority in Parliament since 2017, was now ready to abide by some EU rules. But DUP leader Arlene Foster denied the report, calling it "nonsense". "UK must leave as one nation," she tweeted.
Problems are mounting for Mr Johnson, who finds himself increasingly boxed in on Brexit.
On Thursday, he had to deny that he had lied to Queen Elizabeth II when requesting a suspension of Parliament this month. Mr Johnson asked the British head of state to shutter Parliament for five weeks from Sept 10, claiming it was necessary ahead of rolling out a new domestic agenda.
The unusually long suspension was widely seen as a bid to thwart opposition to a no-deal departure on the Oct 31 deadline, and provoked an uproar across the political spectrum as well as legal challenges.
The day before, Mr Johnson's government was forced to release its no-deal Brexit contingency plans after a parliamentary vote. And Scotland's highest civil court on the same day sided with critics of the prorogation of Parliament, ruling it was "unlawful" and intended to "stymie Parliament".
The government has appealed the decision and the case is set to be heard in Britain's Supreme Court on Tuesday. In the meantime, Parliament remains suspended.
Mr Johnson wants a general election to break the Brexit impasse, but has been thwarted by lawmakers. He has accused his opponents of not wanting an election and not wanting to deliver Brexit either.
Meanwhile in Brussels, Mr Barnier said there was "no reason to be optimistic" about striking any divorce deal with Britain before a crucial Oct 17-18 EU summit.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG