NEW YORK — Boris Johnson warned Britain not to expect a “New York breakthrough” on Brexit as he crossed the Atlantic for talks with EU leaders.
Speaking on his RAF Voyager plane as he flew into New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, the U.K. prime minister insisted that despite the downbeat assessment, he is not “getting pessimistic.” He said his overall hopes for a deal remain “cautiously optimistic.”
Johnson is set to meet European Council President Donald Tusk on the fringes of the summit this afternoon, followed by a trilateral with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
On Tuesday he will attend a head-to-head with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, and later a meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
The meetings will cover a range of topics, including a response to increasing tensions with Iran, but Johnson confirmed Brexit would feature.
He added, however: “I don’t wish to elevate excessively the belief there will be a New York breakthrough. I’m not getting pessimistic. We will be pushing ahead but there is still work to be done.”
Britain has outlined a number of ideas to eliminate the controversial backstop plan to keep the Northern Irish border open in the event of a no-deal Brexit – although a leaked EU memo dismissed them as unworkable.
The British government is said to be pursuing measures that would see Northern Ireland tied to some EU trade rules after Brexit, effectively drawing a regulatory border down the Irish Sea.
Johnson said there are “clearly still gaps and still difficulties” in the negotiations but that he still holds out hope a deal could be secured by October 31, when the U.K. is meant to leave the bloc.
He said the interest shown in one proposal – that Ireland and Northern Ireland could remain a single system for agricultural products — is “encouraging.”
Asked whether other products, such as manufactured goods, could be covered by an all-Ireland regime, he suggested the U.K. might want to diverge from the EU on industrial standards after Brexit, and simultaneously “keep goods moving fluidly.”
He added: “We think we can do both.”
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