It was was never likely that the talks between Boris Johnson and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday would produce a Brexit breakthrough.
Entrenched positions on both sides continue to make the negotiations between Britain and the EU as problematical as they have been for the past three years, and the Prime Minister’s stated determination to leave on October 31 come what may risks making a deal even more difficult.
Leeds MP Hilary Benn urges Boris Johnson to reveal when he will publish his alternative to the Irish backstop
Yet the expressions of willingness to find common ground by both men does demonstrate a desire for continuing dialogue and an admission that it is in the best interests of all to reach a workable agreement.
But what that will be remains unclear. The issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the south remains the key obstacle, and with the deadline for Brexit fast approaching it is difficult to see how the impasse will be broken.
Please Boris Johnson get us out of the EU as soon as possible – Yorkshire Post letters
Mr Johnson’s Parliamentary difficulties can only aggravate matters. With no majority, opposition parties scenting blood, his desire for a general election frustrated and legislation requiring him to ask for an extension of the leaving date, the Prime Minister’s next steps look uncertain.
This only adds to the country’s sense of drift over how Brexit will turn out; the longer this continues, the more damaging it becomes, for businesses which desperately need clarity over trading arrangements.
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There is consensus amongst them that crashing out of the EU without a deal will be damaging, and the Government’s own Operation Yellowhammer documents appear to confirm that is the case.
With only weeks to go, there is a pressing need for Mr Johnson to strike some sort of deal with the EU. But if we learned anything from yesterday’s polite but unproductive meeting, it is that finding one remains elusive.