EU, Britain enter intense Brexit talks as UK departure date looms

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union agreed on Friday to enter intense talks with Britain to try to break the deadlock over Brexit, lifting financial markets with a sign that a deal could be done before the Halloween deadline.

Anti-Brexit protesters hold British and European Union flags outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 11, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

A flurry of activity has brought the fraught bargaining process to a new level as Britain’s scheduled departure date of Oct. 31 grows ever closer, but it is still uncertain whether the two sides can make a breakthrough before then.

The move came at the end of a tumultuous week which started with a public row between London and Brussels.

By Thursday British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar said they had found “a pathway” to a possible deal, and by Friday some officials were expressing guarded optimism.

“I think both of us can see a pathway to a deal, but that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal,” Johnson said on Friday. “There’s a way to go, it’s important now our negotiators on both sides get into proper talks about how to sort this thing out.”

Ireland is crucial if a deal is to be done to avert a potentially disorderly Brexit that would hurt global growth, roil financial markets and could even split the United Kingdom.

Dublin will have to consent to any solution to the toughest problem of all: how to prevent the British province of Northern Ireland from becoming a backdoor into the EU’s markets without having border controls.

A diplomat and an EU official said EU negotiator Michel Barnier had told member states that Britain had changed its position and now accepted that its proposed replacement of the so-called “backstop” cannot involve a customs border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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