Boris Johnson is set for a crucial Brexit showdown with Jean-Claude Juncker today as they hold talks for the first time.
Ahead of the showdown, the PM insisted he is ‘passionate’ about getting a deal and hailed ‘signs of movement’ from the EU.
But commission president Mr Juncker has played down the prospects of a breakthrough and warned that ‘time is running out’.
The face-off over lunch in Luxembourg later is seen as a pivotal moment in the Brexit process, with just 45 days left until the UK is due to leave.
Mr Johnson has made clear he will reiterate his determination to stick to the deadline, whether there is an agreement or not – likening himself to the ‘Incredible Hulk’ breaking free of ‘manacles’.
The government has ramped up efforts to get a settlement with Brussels after Remainer MPs moved to hem in the government by ruling out No Deal, and blocking an election.
Legislation passed by Parliament obliges the PM to seek an extension if an agreement is not struck by October 19 – the day after a make-or-break EU summit concludes.
However, allies of the premier have been claiming there is a loophole in the rebel law that could allow the government to ignore it.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured in Rotherham on Friday) has said he believes ‘passionately’ that a new Brexit deal is possible before October 31
Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) this weekend downplayed hopes of a breakthrough, saying Britain had yet to present an alternative to the Irish backstop
Mr Johnson will meet Mr Juncker at lunchtime – their first encounter since he entered Downing Street.
Over a meal of snails, salmon and cheese, he is expected to tell the former Luxembourg prime minister that he will reject the offer of any further extension, even if it is just for a few days.
‘He could not be clearer that he will not countenance any more delays, we will be leaving on October 31 – no ifs, no buts,’ said a source at No 10.
‘Any further extension would be a huge mistake. It is not just a question of the extra dither and delay – it is also the additional long months of rancour and division, and all at huge expense.
‘We must finally deliver on the 2016 referendum. This is why the PM will stress to Mr Juncker that, while he wants to secure a deal, if no deal can be agreed by October 18 his policy is to leave without a deal on October 31 – and reject any delay offered by the EU.’
Writing in the Telegraph today, Mr Johnson said the UK was working ‘flat out’ for a deal, despite the EU complaining that no formal proposals have been put forward yet.
‘I believe passionately that we can do it, and I believe that such an agreement is in the interests not just of the UK but also of our European friends,’ the PM wrote.
‘We have all spent too long on this question. And if we can get that deal, then of course there will be time for Parliament to scrutinise and approve it before the end of October.’
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Here is how the coming weeks could pan out:
Today: Boris Johson meets Jean-Claude Juncker for lunch in Luxembourg.
September 17: Supreme Court hears case on whether prorogation of Parliament was illegal.
September 21-25: Labour conference in Brighton
September 29-October 2: Tory conference takes place in Manchester, with Mr Johnson giving his first keynote speech as leader on the final day. This will be a crucial waypointer on how Brexit talks are going.
October 14: Unless it has already been recalled following the court battle, Parliament is due to return with the Queen’s Speech – the day before Mr Johnson had hoped to hold a snap election.
October 17-18: A crunch EU summit in Brussels, where Mr Johnson has vowed he will try to get a Brexit deal despite Remainers ‘wrecking’ his negotiating position.
October 19: If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal.
October 21: Decisive votes on the Queen’s Speech, which could pave the way for a confidence vote.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU.
November/December: An election looks inevitable, but Labour is hinting it might push the date back towards Christmas to humiliate the PM.
‘But be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal – the right deal for both sides – then the UK will come out anyway.’
British officials have been drawing up alternatives to the Irish backstop, which is designed to prevent the return of a hard border.
The new blueprint could see Northern Ireland stay within some of the EU’s regulatory framework to avoid the need for checks.
However, the province would be within the UK’s customs jurisdiction.
The EU previously rejected such ideas when Theresa May was PM, and it is uncertain whether they would be acceptable to the DUP.
In an interview with Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘There has been detailed technical talks led by David Frost, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser. They have been meeting with Michel Barnier’s team.
‘The Prime Minister will be seeing President Juncker, I’ll be meeting with Michel Barnier, so there’s extensive talks been happening both at a technical level but also at a political level.
‘So there has been a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes. We can see a landing zone in terms of a future deal but there is significant work still to do.’
But she said the Government was not going to propose a similar deal to Mrs May’s.
Ahead of his meeting with Mr Juncker, Mr Johnson yesterday struck a confident tone, saying ‘we will get there’ and that a ‘huge amount of progress is being made’.
Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson said: ‘I will be talking to Jean-Claude about how we’re going to do it. I’m very confident.
‘When I got this job everybody was saying there can be absolutely no change to the withdrawal agreement, the backstop was immutable, the arrangements by which the UK was kept locked in to the EU forever, they said no one could change that.
‘They have already moved off that and, as you know, there’s a very, very good conversation going on about how to address the issues of the Northern Irish border. A huge amount of progress is being made.’
However, Mr Juncker yesterday said he was still waiting to receive detailed proposals from London as to how the withdrawal agreement should be changed.
He told German radio station Deutschlandfunk: ‘We do not know what the British want in detail, precisely and accurately, and we are still waiting for alternative proposals. Time is running out.’
Writing in today’s Telegraph, Mr Johnson accuses the opposition parties of being part of a ‘Remainer attempt to crush Brexit’ while claiming only to want to thwart No Deal.
He points the finger at Jeremy Corbyn, saying the Labour leader wants to keep Britain tied to the EU ‘at a cost of £250million a week’ – significantly less than the £350million calculation the Leave side used during the referendum campaign of 2016.
The Prime Minister adds: ‘That’s enough to build a new hospital.’