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Brexit minister hints United Kingdom could soften stances in European Union talks

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Stephen Barclay walks down Downing Street in London, Britain. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP London, United Kingdom Oct 06, 2019, 04.22 PM (IST)

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay suggested Sunday that Britain is open to compromise with the European Union over new United Kingdom proposals for Northern Ireland, but urged Brussels to show "creativity and flexibility".

Barclay reiterated Prime Minister Boris Johnson's latest plans for a managed withdrawal from the bloc on October 31 were "a broad landing zone" ahead of "intense negotiations in the coming days". 

"We need to get into the intensive negotiations... to clarify what the deal is," Barclay told the BBC. 

"We've set out very serious proposals including a compromise on our side... We now need to see creativity and flexibility on the EU side in order to reach that deal", he added.

However, the European Union have reacted tepidly to the plans and urged London to offer a revised, viable way forward.

The two sides will resume crunch talks Monday, with time running out ahead of a crucial EU summit on October 17-18.

"If the offer from the UK turns out to be a take-it-or-leave-it, it's going to be very difficult I see in agreeing," Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins told the BBC on Sunday.

"It's fully dependent on the will of Mr Johnson because from the European side, we're always open and looking towards a deal."

'No more dither'

The British proposals submitted to Brussels on Wednesday centre on how to manage the post-Brexit border between British province Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

Johnson wants Northern Ireland's devolved assembly - which has been suspended for almost three years - to vote every four years on whether to maintain EU rather than British regulations there.

He has also proposed the province leaves the EU's customs union along with the rest of Britain, with required checks to rely on untried technology and carried out away from the sensitive border.

Brussels has said the plans "do not provide a basis for concluding an agreement".

It sees the potential for rampant smuggling while Ireland is concerned hardline Northern Irish unionists would have an effective veto. 

Barclay hinted that Britain could be willing to consider alternatives to the role of Northern Irish assembly to break the deadlock.

"We can obviously... discuss that mechanism, but the key issue is the principle of consent to any regulatory zone," he said.

Similarly, on the thorny issue of customs, the Brexit Secretary struck a conciliatory note.

"In the detail of the negotiations, of course, we can get into the detail as to how operationally they work, what legal certainty is required," he said.

Barclay will travel to Amsterdam later Sunday for Brexit talks while Johnson has been phoning European leaders this weekend to sell his plans.

In identical articles for two Brexit-backing British tabloids, Johnson called for EU flexibility and reiterated that the country will leave the bloc later this month with or without a deal.

"They should be under no illusions or misapprehensions," he wrote in the Sunday Express.

"There will be no more dither or delay. On October 31 we are going to get Brexit done", he added.

Story highlights

Barclay reiterated Prime Minister Boris Johnson's latest plans for a managed withdrawal from the bloc on October 31.