Downing Street officials confirmed that the UK talks team will meet their Brussels counterparts twice a week throughout next month in an intensive effort to break the deadlock over the Withdrawal Agreement. David Frost, the chief official in the Prime Minister’s negotiating team, met members of the EU’s Brexit taskforce earlier this week to agree to the new phase of discussions. Their renewed contact is likely to raise expectations that Mr Johnson’s tough new approach to Brussels could lead to a breakthrough ahead of his October 31 departure deadline.
Both sides in the negotiations were committed to detailed talks about how to solve the row over the Northern Ireland backstop border measure, according to Whitehall officials.
Mr Johnson said: “I have said right from my first day in office that we are ready to work in an energetic and determined way to get a deal done.
“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.
“The increase in meetings and discussions is necessary if are to have a chance of agreeing a deal for when we leave on October 31, no ifs no buts.”
Officials insist the Prime Minister’s plan to suspend Parliament for several weeks until the middle of October will allow his team to be “totally focused” on the talks in Brussels.
The two negotiating teams will begin their twice-weekly sessions in Brussels next week, with extra meetings possible to look in detail at technical issues.
Mr Frost will be joined by different teams of officials on each day depending on the issues being discussed. Experts on customs, regulation and trade policy are expected to be drafted in on a meeting-by-meeting basis.
Officials admit that the two sides are still “some distance apart” on the key obstacles to a Brexit deal.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly insisted a deal cannot be agreed unless Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is reopened and the backstop ripped out.
In his first days in Downing Street, he insisted he would not hold any further discussions with EU leaders until they dropped their demand for the backstop, a mechanism designed to avoid customs checks at the Northern Irish border that could keep the UK trapped in EU regulations indefinitely.
His go-ahead for fresh discussions will be seen as a sign that the EU has given some indication of flexibility on the backstop issue.
Mr Johnson’s hopes of a deal were raised after meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron last week.
Both leaders were open to further talks to try to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The Prime Minister also said talks with EU Council President Donald Tusk at the G7 Summit in France last weekend left him “marginally” more optimistic about his chances of a deal.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said on Twitter yesterday: “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. It is our duty and our responsibility.”