UK Politics: Johnson to remain defiant over Brexit in first meeting with Juncker

Boris Johnson says he is committed to delivering Brexit on October 31st
Johnson is expected to refuse any offer of a Brexit delay
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Boris Johnson is visiting Luxembourg today to discuss Brexit in his first meeting with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker since becoming prime minister...

"The PM will stress to Mr Juncker that, while he wants to secure a deal, if no deal can be agreed by October 18th his policy is to leave without a deal on October 31st - and reject any delay offered by the EU,"

- Downing Street source

Boris Johnson will today (Monday September 16) have his first face-to-face talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker since becoming UK prime minister.

In a lunchtime meeting in Luxembourg, the pair are expected to discuss progress towards a withdrawal agreement ahead of the current Brexit deadline of October 31. Johnson is expected to maintain the defiant tone the government has adopted in recent weeks, insisting he will not accept any further delays to Brexit.

Legislation given royal assent last week places a legal obligation on the government to request an extension to the October 31st deadline if there is no deal in place by October 19.

'A huge mistake'

The government's position so far has been that it wants to reach a deal with Brussels, but that Britain should be ready to leave the European Union by the end of October without one, if necessary.

Downing Street suggested this is still the case ahead of today's meeting, with Johnson set to make it clear he "would not countenance any more delays".

A government source said any extension to the current deadline would be a "huge mistake" and would lead to "months of rancour and division, and all at huge expense".

"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," they added.

Johnson hit the headlines over the weekend when he told the Mail on Sunday that Britain will break free of its "manacles" like comic book character the Incredible Hulk to leave the EU by the end of October.

Opposition parties and MPs have raised concerns about the progress being made towards a new deal, but Johnson expressed confidence that "we will get there".

"I will be talking to Jean-Claude about how we're going to do it. I'm very confident," he said.

'Tactical posturing'

One of the biggest obstacles to reaching a withdrawal agreement that satisfies both sides is the Northern Ireland backstop, with Johnson insisting the policy has to be scrapped because it would leave Britain too closely tied to the EU.

David Gauke, the former justice secretary and one of 21 Tory MPs deselected by the party after voting with the opposition to block a no-deal Brexit, said the government has still not come forward with any viable alternative to the backstop.

"I very much welcome the intention of the prime minister to get a deal," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "But to get a deal - and I hope he does get a deal - we've clearly got to come forward with detailed proposals."

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said any suggestion from Brussels that the UK was procrastinating and failing to bring any concrete ideas to the negotiating table was simply part of the "tactical posturing that goes on in any negotiation".

He added: "Of course the nature of these negotiations is that there will be a tendency to rubbish things we put forward in order to exact further demands. We are not going to get involved in that."

Today's talks between Johnson and Juncker come against the backdrop of a complex economic situation in Europe. Last week, the European Central Bank announced new measures intended to boost growth in the flagging eurozone economy, including cutting a key interest rate and restarting quantitative easing.

The UK economy grew by 0.3% in July, easing fears the country was headed for a recession. After four days of gains, London's FTSE 100 opened lower on Monday morning. However, the losses were mitigated by increases for oil giants BP and Shell, which benefited from a jump in crude oil prices.

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