EU, Britain to hold intense Brexit talks as UK departure date nears

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union and Britain agreed on Friday to hold intense talks over the next few days in a bid to secure a deal over Britain’s departure from the bloc, but arrangements over British-Irish border controls remain at issue, the EU said.

Britain’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay poses with European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier ahead of a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 11, 2019. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS

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.

Some officials expressed guarded optimism, while financial markets and banks were buoyed by the latest pronouncements. Sterling jumped to a three-month high.

But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was not yet a “done deal” and the United Kingdom was still ready to leave the EU without one if necessary.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart Stephen Barclay held what both sides called a “constructive” meeting in Brussels on Friday morning.

That followed a statement from Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday that they had found “a pathway” to a possible deal.

After Barnier briefed ambassadors from the 27 countries that will remain in the EU, the European Commission said the two sides had agreed to intensify discussions over the coming days and the Europeans would take stock again on Monday.

“The EU’s position remains the same: there must be a legally operative solution in the Withdrawal Agreement that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland,

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