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Boris Johnson Urges EU to Recognize He Has Compromised on Brexit

Robert Hutton and Thomas Penny

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Boris Johnson urged European Union leaders to recognize that he has compromised on Brexit and appealed to them to meet him half-way as he holds crucial talks on securing a divorce deal with the bloc.

The British premier, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, spent Monday in a series of side meetings, trying to make progress on finding a new Brexit agreement. Asked what he wanted from this week’s talks, Johnson told ITV News: “A broader understanding of quite how forward-looking and forward-leaning the U.K. has been with our suggestions.”

Time is running short for the prime minister, who has pledged to leave the EU with or without a deal by Oct. 31. While his senior officials have spoken of signs that the EU is softening its line, the bloc’s leaders have been resolute that they will not abandon their commitment to the integrity of its single market.

Officials on both sides now regard the talks at the UN as potentially make-or-break for the chances of securing a deal before the deadline.

As Johnson Fights to Save Brexit Deal, Leaders Ask: Who Is He?

Johnson repeatedly pointed to his proposal of an all-Ireland zone for phytosanitary standards -- checks on plants and livestock for pests and disease -- as evidence that he had softened his line. “That, we think, is a helpful suggestion. I hope that colleagues will see that that’s a concession we’re making,” he said.

Border, High Court

When the prime minister met EU President Donald Tusk in New York on Monday, he made the point again, according to his office, emphasizing that “in order to secure a deal, we will now need to see movement and flexibility from the EU.”

But Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar -- who’ll see Johnson in New York on Tuesday -- didn’t appear to be in a mood for compromise. He said he wouldn’t accept a “halfway house” on how the Irish border will be managed after Brexit. Ireland and the EU need legally-binding assurances, he said.

An EU official said Johnson’s 30-minute meeting with Tusk took place in a positive atmosphere, but despite the open discussion, large gaps remain between the two sides and time is running short. The official said Britain must urgently provide realistic proposals for resolving the impasse and submit them in writing as legal text.

U.K. Supreme Court to Rule on Parliament Suspension Tuesday

At the same time, Johnson’s team are braced for a ruling from the Supreme Court in London Tuesday over whether his decision to suspend Parliament to reduce the time for lawmakers to scrutinize his Brexit plans was unlawful.

Johnson stonewalled questions about what he might do in response. “I’m going to wait and see what the judgment is,” he said.

During his visit, Johnson is trying to emphasize the positives of Brexit.

At a breakfast for U.S. and Canadian businessmen on Tuesday, he’ll promise to “roll out the red carpet” for them, with “competitive tax rates” and “better regulation.”

“As we come out of the EU, we are going up a gear,” he’ll say, according to his office. “We are going to take advantage of all the freedoms that Brexit can give.”

U.K. Labour Opposition

Back in Britain, the opposition Labour Party backed away from adopting a position of fully rejecting Brexit, instead, backing leader Jeremy Corbyn’s wait-and-see policy.

The party’s annual conference in Brighton, southeast England, saw angry scenes as three votes went Corbyn’s way. The party is now committed to fighting a general election, renegotiating a Brexit deal with the European Union, and then holding a referendum to allow voters to support that deal or opt to remain in the bloc.

Officially, Labour will only decide which side to support in that vote once the terms of the deal are known. In reality, most of the party’s supporters and members of Parliament oppose Brexit.

--With assistance from Peter Flanagan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in New York at rhutton1@bloomberg.net;Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Robert Jameson

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