BRUSSELS—The European Union is preparing to grant another British request to extend the Brexit negotiations after concluding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson won’t be able to secure a deal before the end of this month, sources say.
Senior EU officials and diplomats told The Epoch Times that they expect Johnson to be forced into asking for a further delay to the country’s exit date at an Oct. 17 gathering in Brussels.
Hopes that Johnson will be able to strike an agreement before then are fading, the people said, since the gap between the two sides about how to solve the Irish border issue is widening, rather than narrowing.
UK legislators passed a bill in September that will compel the prime minister to ask fellow European leaders for an extension if Parliament hasn’t voted to leave either with or without a deal by Oct. 19.
Johnson has repeatedly insisted that the UK will exit the bloc on Oct. 31 “do or die.” However, officials in Brussels believe he’s just posturing and are skeptical that any British leader would disobey the law.
Phil Hogan, a senior Irish official who is set to become the EU’s next trade commissioner, told reporters that European leaders are now “wondering when is the next extension,” given the lack of progress in talks.
“When you’re not able to see an agreement coming through the House of Commons—there’s a wonder here to know if any deal would get through—then a UK election is what the European side thinks is going to happen,” Hogan said. “Inevitably, that’s the way things are developing.”
Diplomats in Brussels said that recent discussions between EU member states indicated that none of them—not even France, which has taken the hardest line on Brexit—is prepared to veto another delay.
“It will not happen. The Europeans, be it the Germans, the French, the Poles, or the Hungarians, all think the same. The UK should take its responsibility and should not try to put the blame on us,” a senior EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. “Europe will have no choice if there’s an extension request other than to grant it. Everybody knows a general election is coming, so the political element is there.”
A senior diplomat from a Northern European country said that “time is running out” to reach a deal in time for the Oct. 31 exit date, but “we haven’t set a deadline.”
The diplomat added that the UK’s proposals for an alternative to the backstop—the EU’s plan to keep the Irish border open after Brexit—currently fall “way short of being able to be the basis of real negotiations.”
“If a political deal is only struck late in October, it’s not feasible. This cannot be done in a couple of days. There’s a natural limit to what 27 EU members can digest if we enter negotiations based on the proposal,” the diplomat said.
A diplomat working on negotiations for the UK government insisted: “The prime minister has been clear that we are leaving on Oct. 31.”
Officials working on the negotiations must speak on the condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to publicly discuss the details of sensitive internal discussions.