EMMANUEL Macron set Boris Johnson an 12-day deadline to table his Brexit plan yesterday – as Jean-Claude Juncker warned him time is running out to strike a deal.
The French president set a new ultimatum of September 30 after talks with Finland’s leader yesterday.
As frustration in Europe mounted with the PM, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier also accused the UK of wasting time by “pretending” to negotiate.
Mr Juncker challenged the PM to table a plan to replace the backstop, but also said he would “focus” on a breakthrough “which is still possible”.
‘IN PARTS POSITIVE’
In a conciliatory speech he said he has “no emotional attachment” to the EU’s border fix – and that talks with Mr Johnson had been “in parts positive”.
His remarks came as Ireland’s deputy PM Simon Coveney revealed he’s been holding secret meetings with British ministers about a backstop alternative.
Finnish PM Mr Rinne, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said without fresh proposals other leaders will back the French leader’s hardline stance.
After talks with Mr Macron in Paris, he said: “We need to know what the UK is proposing. Loose talk about proposals for negotiations is irresponsible.
“We are both concerned about what is happening in Britain right now and the confusion that is spreading out from there to Europe.”
‘NO DEAL PALPABLE’
On a day of Brexit drama MEPs’ negotiator Guy Verhofstadt urged the PM to step up protections for EU citizens in the UK by being more like Mrs Doubtfire than the Hulk.
And Brussels bosses aimed jibes at Mr Johnson over the prorogation of Parliament, saying the debate showed the EU was “open and in action”.
It was also claimed Mr Barnier and Mr Juncker had schooled the PM on what the Single Market is – but diplomats dismissed the reports as “Commission spin”.
Mr Juncker said “the risk of a No Deal is palpable” due to the PM’s insistence that Britain will leave on October 31 “whatever happens”.
He told the EU Parliament: “Until such time as those proposals have been presented I will not be able to tell you any real progress has been achieved.
“The Commission is prepared to work day in day out, from morning until night, to try and find the technical and political solutions we need.
“I’m not sure we’ll get there. There’s very little time remaining but what I do know is that we need to keep trying.”
‘MOMENT OF TRUTH’
Speaking after him Mr Barnier had a dig at the British negotiating team for failing to put forward a concrete alternative to the Irish border fix.
He said: “The new UK Government outlined the aspects of the backstop they don’t like. That’s not enough however to move towards achieving a solution.
“Almost three years after the UK referendum I don’t think that we should be spending time pretending to negotiate.”
But in a significant moment Mr Barnier also acknowledged the PM’s criticism that the backstop is anti-democratic – saying he “understands the remarks”.
The Frenchman said the two sides were “at a moment of truth in these negotiations” and insisted he wasn’t trying to “trap” Britain in the EU.
He added that they needed to “remain respectful of one another” – after Luxembourg was accused of humiliating Mr Johnson earlier this week.
Nigel Farage said the episode showed why Britain shouldn’t sign an agreement, even without the backstop in, and leave itself “at the mercy” of Brussels.
The Brexit party leader said “pipsqueak” PM Xavier Bettel’s “ritual humiliation” of Mr Johnson demonstrated the EU’s bad faith.
He fumed: “This treaty, even without the backstop, is a very bad deal for Britain.
“It’ll leave us trapped inside EU rules, it’ll leave us under the auspices of the European court.
“And having given everything away in the Withdrawal Agreement, the worst part is that any future relationship relies on good faith.”
He added: “I would suggest that events we’ve seen across Europe this week don’t indicate that good faith exists.
“The only way forward now to deliver on the referendum is for a clean break Brexit.
“Once we’ve done that we’ll have a grown up conversation about trade and the way forward.”
Meanwhile, Mr Coveney revealed he has been holding regular talks with top British politicians to try and thrash out an alternative to the backstop.
He has met Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, No Deal planning chief Michael Gove and Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.
Leo Varadkar’s deputy said: “Of course there are conversations, as you would expect, exploring concepts, what might work, what won’t work.
“We await written proposals from the UK side. We simply haven’t seen any written proposals to date.
“Just because Boris Johnson says the backstop needs to go, doesn’t mean that everybody else will respond positively to that.
“There’s an obligation on the party looking for change to come up with solutions that can deal with the consequences of what they’re asking for.
“And if that question can’t be answered, we won’t have a deal.”
Britain has floated a “three tier” alternative to the backstop past EU negotiators in a bid to secure a breakthrough.
It includes agreeing an all-island agri-food zone, under which Northern Ireland continues to follow EU rules on farming and food standards.
This would be coupled by replacing alignment in other areas with alternative arrangements and agreeing a Stormont Lock for Northern Irish consent.
Under the plan the whole of the UK would leave the EU’s customs union and single market.
EU diplomats said that at lunch with Mr Juncker on Monday, the PM was shocked by the scale of customs checks that would be required.
Mr Johnson is said to have turned to his advisers for answers when the Commission chief and Mr Barnier ran through the “technical detail” involved.
An EU diplomat told The Sun: “What the exchange tells us is that he does want a solution for the border, but he’s more a big picture kind of guy.
“So Frost is here with a job to do a deal. But we have no deal in sight that avoids a hard border, and we wonder how far he can bring his party.”
MOST READ NEWS
Some EU sources have said leaders might be “tempted” to “take a leap” on a slimmed down backstop if they get assurances over single market integrity.
Such a plan would likely have to be accompanied by a longer transition period to provide more time to flesh out alternative arrangements.
But EU officials have expressed fears that the UK could exploit such a scenario to use the border as “leverage” over the bloc in future trade talks.
We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online news team? Email us at [email protected] or call 0207 782 4368 . You can WhatsApp us on 07810 791 502. We pay for videos too. Click here to upload yours.