'Realistic' Brexit deal in 8 weeks, says EU negotiator

A "Brexit treaty" could be made "within six or eight weeks," said Michel Barnier. But the UK's premier is under pressure from within her party, with some speculating Boris Johnson is preparing for a leadership contest.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, on Monday said a deal for the UK's formal exit from the European Union could be completed within the next eight weeks.

"I think that if we are realistic, we are able to reach an agreement on the first of this negotiation, which is the Brexit treaty, within six or eight weeks," Barnier told a conference in Slovenia.

He said it was imperative that an agreement be reached "before the beginning of November" to give EU parliaments a chance to ratify the deal.

The announcement triggered a jump in the British pound, hitting a five-week high against the US dollar at $1.31, while rising 0.5 percent against the euro to €1.12.

Read more: Germany's 'Little Britain' forced to close down — for now

'Deal in October'

British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesperson said her government was "focused on securing a deal in October."

"You have seen over the summer I think an intensification in the talks — that is obviously something which we called for — and you have seen progress continuing to be made in relation to that withdrawal agreement," May's spokesperson said.

On March 29, 2019, the UK will formally leave the EU unless an agreement is made to extend the date for negotiating a Brexit accord. However, that appears less likely due to EU and British officials' statements.

But EU negotiators have warned that roadblocks remain, including the question of a hard border separating EU member state Ireland and the UK's Northern Ireland, which some say could undermine peace on the island.

Read more: 'Scallop Wars': Britain and France draw up peace treaty

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Under pressure

Barnier's remark on Monday are likely to give May some reprieve as she faces growing dissent from fellow Conservative lawmakers.

Former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who quit his post in July over May's proposed divorce deal, said May should follow US President Donald Trump's lead and commit to rejecting new taxes in the wake of Brexit.

"Now is the time for this Conservative government to show how a post-Brexit Britain will be a happy and dynamic economy," said Johnson in a column for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

According to conservative-leaning publications in the UK, Johnson is preparing for an attempt on May's leadership.

Read more: Opinion: Brexit has reached a dead end

Britain's embattled skipper: Theresa May
May became prime minister after David Cameron resigned from the post in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote in June 2016. Despite her position, she has struggled to define what kind of Brexit her government wants. Hardliners within her Conservative party want her to push for a clean break. Others want Britain to stay close to the bloc. The EU itself has rejected many of May's Brexit demands.
Britain's reluctant rebel: Jeremy Corbyn
The leader of the British Labour Party has no formal role in the Brexit talks, but he is influential as the head of the main opposition party. Labour has tried to pressure the Conservative government, which has a thin majority in Parliament, to seek a "softer" Brexit. But Corbyn's own advocacy has been lukewarm. The long-time leftist voted for the UK to leave the European Community (EC) in 1975.
Britain's boisterous Brexiteer: Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson's turbulent two years as UK foreign secretary came to an abrupt end with his resignation on July 9. The conservative had been a key face for the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum campaign. Johnson disapproves of the "soft Brexit" sought by PM May, arguing that a complete break from the EU might be preferable. He became the second Cabinet member within 24 hours to quit...
Britain's cheery ex-delegate: David Davis
David Davis headed Britain's Department for Exiting the EU and was the country's chief negotiator in the talks before he quit on July 8, less than 24 hours before Downing Street announced Boris Johnson's departure. Davis had long opposed Britain's EU membership and was picked for the role for this reason. Davis was involved in several negotiating rounds with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier.
Britain's legal envoy: Dominic Raab
Theresa May appointed euroskeptic Dominic Raab the morning after Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned. Raab, a staunchly pro-Brexit lawmaker, was formerly Davis' chief of staff. He previously worked for a Palestinian negotiator in the Oslo peace process and as an international lawyer in Brussels advising on European Union and World Trade Organization law.
Britain's turnabout diplomat: Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Hunt was Britain's Health Secretary until he replaced Boris Johnson as foreign secretary in early July 2018. The 51-year-old supported Britain remaining in the European Union during the 2016 referendum, but said in late 2017 that he had changed his mind in response to the "the arrogance of the EU Commission" during Brexit talks. He has vowed to help get Britain a "great Brexit deal."
Britain's firebrand: Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage was the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) until July 2016. Under his stewardship, the party helped pressure former Prime Minister David Cameron into calling the EU referendum. He was also a prominent activist in the Leave campaign in the lead-up to the vote. Farage still has some influence over Brexit talks due to his popularity with pro-Leave voters.
Europe's honchos: Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk
EU Commission President Juncker (left) and EU Council President Tusk (right) share two of the bloc's highest posts. Juncker heads the EU's executive. Tusk represents the governments of the 27 EU countries — the "EU 27." Both help formulate the EU's position in Brexit negotiations. What Tusk says is particularly noteworthy: His EU 27 masters — not the EU commission — must agree to any Brexit deal.
Europe's steely diplomat: Michel Barnier
The former French foreign minister and European commissioner has become a household name across the EU since his appointment as the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator in October 2016. Despite his prominence, Barnier has limited room to maneuver. He is tasked with following the EU 27's strict guidelines and must regularly report back to them during the negotiations.
Ireland's uneasy watchman: Leo Varadkar
The Irish PM has been one of the most important EU 27 leaders in Brexit talks. Britain has said it will leave the EU's customs union and single market. That could force the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, to put up customs checks along the border with Northern Ireland, a British province. But Varadkar's government has repeatedly said the return of a "hard" border is unacceptable.
Europe's power-brokers: the EU 27
The leaders of the EU 27 governments have primarily set the EU's negotiating position. They have agreed to the negotiating guidelines for chief negotiator Barnier and have helped craft the common EU position for Tusk and Juncker to stick to. The individual EU 27 governments can also influence the shape of any Brexit outcome because they must unanimously agree to a final deal.

ls/rc (Reuters, AFP)

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Date 10.09.2018