Brexit hangs in the balance as EU doubts a deal this week

LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – 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.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a debate after the Queen’s Speech in the House of Commons, in London, Britain October 14, 2019. ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

As the Brexit maelstrom spins, Johnson and EU leaders face a tumultuous week of reckoning that could decide whether the divorce is orderly, acrimonious or delayed yet again.

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. If an agreement is not possible, he says 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.

But current EU president Finland said more time was needed and that negotiations could continue even after the EU summit.

“I think there is no time in a practical or legal way to find an agreement before the EU Council meeting,” Prime Minister Antti Rinne said after talks with the next chair of EU summits, Charles Michel. “We need more time and we need to have negotiations after the (European) Council meeting.”

Some EU politicians such as Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said a deal was possible with more work. 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.

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