Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wants to “step up the tempo” in talks with the European Union to strike a new Brexit deal before the 31 October deadline.
The comments came ahead of a court ruling Friday that could block Johnson’s suspension of parliament just weeks before Britain’s exit date, amid a furious outcry from pro-Europeans and MPs opposed to a no-deal exit.
Britain’s Brexit negotiators are to meet their EU counterparts twice a week throughout September in a bid to reach a new divorce agreement.
“We are ready to work in an energetic and determined way to get a deal done,” Johnson said Thursday.
“While I have been encouraged with my discussions with EU leaders over recent weeks that there is a willingness to talk about alternatives to the anti-democratic backstop, it is now time for both sides to step up the tempo.”
Johnson wants the so-called backstop, the fallback provisions regarding the Irish border, scrapped completely.
His lead Brexit negotiator David Frost will be joined in Brussels by different officials depending on the talks’ agenda, including experts on customs, regulatory issues and trade policy, the government said.
“Discussions so far have shown that the two sides remain some distance apart on key issues but that both sides are willing to work hard to find a way through,” Johnson’s Downing Street office said in a statement.
“The teams intend to run through a range of issues including the impasse around the backstop.
“The PM has been clear that there will be no new deal unless the withdrawal agreement is reopened and the backstop taken out,” it added.
Brussels insists that the backstop — which would keep the UK in EU customs arrangements to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland — is essential to preserve the integrity of European trade and to avoid risking a return of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday vowed that the bloc would protect peace in Ireland.
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK will leave the EU on 31 Oct. In all circumstances, the EU will continue to protect the interests of its citizens and companies, as well as the conditions for peace and stability on the island of Ireland,” Barnier tweeted.
“It is our duty and our responsibility.”
The backstop is included in a divorce deal the EU agreed with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, which parliament has rejected three times.
“The increase in meetings and discussions is necessary if we are to have a chance of agreeing a deal for when we leave on October 31 — no ifs, no buts,” Johnson said.
The prime minister’s comments come as he faces legal challenges to his move to suspend parliament in the final weeks before Brexit.
Johnson announced the surprise decision Wednesday to dismiss parliament — known as proroguing — next month for nearly five weeks.
He claimed his new government needed to start a fresh parliamentary session in order to pursue a “bold and ambitious” post-Brexit domestic agenda.
But his opponents view it as an unconstitutional move to stymie legislative efforts to block a no-deal Brexit.
The prime minister insists Britain must leave the European Union on time, with or without a divorce deal — and the move limits his opponents’ room for manoeuvre.
A Scottish judge is to decide Friday whether to issue an interim order stopping the suspension.
Lord Raymond Doherty on Thursday heard a bid for an interim interdict — the Scottish legal equivalent of an injunction — that would halt Johnson’s move to suspend parliament between mid-September and October 14.
The queen, the head of state who must follow the advice of her ministers, has already given the go-ahead.
A group of 75 parliamentarians are seeking a temporary injunction from Doherty pending a full hearing on September 6.
The judge will start giving his decision at 10:00 am (0900 GMT) at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Scotland’s highest civil court.
England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own separate legal systems within the United Kingdom.
Legal bids to halt Johnson’s move have also been launched in London and Belfast.