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EU Chief: The Risk of A No-Deal Brexit "Remains Very Real"

by Mark Carlson and Samuel Petrequin .
Wednesday Sep 18, 2019
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker listens Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019 in Strasbourg, eastern France, as members of the European Parliament discuss the current state of play of the UK's withdrawal from the EU
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker listens Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019 in Strasbourg, eastern France, as members of the European Parliament discuss the current state of play of the UK's withdrawal from the EU  (Source:AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

The risk of Britain leaving the European Union without a divorce deal remains "very real," European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker declared Wednesday as EU lawmakers debated the ramifications of a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Juncker, who met with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, said a no-deal Brexit "might be the choice of the U.K., but it will never be ours."

After the debate, the European Parliament is set to adopt a resolution laying out its concerns about Britain's impending departure from the 28-nation bloc on Oct. 31. Johnson has been adamant the U.K. will leave the EU on that scheduled date with or without a withdrawal agreement.

The main sticking point over a Brexit deal is the Irish border backstop, which would require Britain to retain some EU trade rules in order to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland.

"I have no sentimental attachment to the backstop," Juncker said, adding, however, that he remains attached to the purpose it serves, which is not to create border structures that could be detrimental to peace in Northern Ireland.

EU leaders have made clear it is essential that any amendment to the current proposed divorce deal should uphold the Good Friday peace agreement, the treaty that ended decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.

Despite his declaration that Britain will leave on Oct. 31 "do or die," Johnson he insists he can strike a revised divorce deal with the bloc in time for an orderly departure. European leaders are skeptical of that declaration.

"I asked the British prime minister to specify the alternative arrangements that he could envisage," Juncker said Wednesday. "As long as such proposals are not made, I cannot tell you — while looking you straight in the eye — that progress is being made."

The Brexit agreement made with the EU by Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, was rejected three times by Britain's Parliament, prompting May to resign.

Spelling out the need for the backstop, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier warned that even if Britain leaves without any agreement at all, major problems will still have to be resolved, including the future of citizens hit by Brexit, peace in Northern Ireland and the protection of the EU's single market and the Irish economy.

"None of these questions disappears," Barnier said Wednesday, insisting that the challenges must not be underestimated. "We need legally operative solutions in the withdrawal agreement to respond precisely to each problem — to address each risk — that Brexit creates."

"Some three years after the British referendum, it's not a question of pretending to negotiate. It's our responsibility to continue this process with determination and sincerity," Barnier told the European lawmakers.

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Associated Press writer Lorne Cook and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed.

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