LONDON (AP) — Brexit negotiators were meeting again Monday in an attempt to allow Britain to leave the European Union with a divorce deal at the end of the month, the queen was preparing to give a speech on the broader aims of government.
Ireland said a Brexit deal may be possible in coming days, after technical teams from Britain and the EU worked through the weekend, although both sides said significant gaps remain between their positions.
Discussions centered on the difficult issue of border arrangements between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
Arriving for a meeting in Luxembourg, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said, “The less we say now, the better.”
Despite his reticence, Coveney said, “A deal is possible, and it is possible this month — may be possible this week. But we are not there yet.”
Coveney said it was essential to give negotiators time to iron out the remaining difficulties.
“There is still a lot of work to do,” he said.
While the negotiators continue at the EU’s glass-and-steel Berlaymont headquarters in Brussels, Queen Elizabeth II was preparing to deliver a speech outlining the legislative program for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.
The queen’s speech — delivered by the monarch from a gilded throne in the House of Lords but written by the government — is to include more than 20 bills, including a law to implement an EU withdrawal agreement, should one be reached. There’s also a plan for post-Brexit immigration rules and bills on law and order, health care and environmental protection.
The speech is part of the State Opening of Parliament, a ceremony steeped in centuries-old symbolism of the power struggle between Parliament and the British monarchy. Lawmakers are summoned to listen to the queen by a security official named Black Rod — but only comply after slamming the House of Commons door in his face to symbolize their independence.
The state opening is usually an annual event, but amid the country’s Brexit chaos there has been no queen’s speech for more than two years — the longest gap for more than three centuries.
The government’s critics say Monday’s speech is little more than a stunt, because Johnson’s Conservative administration lacks a majority in Parliament and an election looks likely within the next few months, whether or not Britain leaves the EU as scheduled on Oct. 31.
EU leaders, including Johnson, are to meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to see whether a Brexit deal is possible before Oct. 31.
The challenge of maintaining an invisible border on the island of Ireland — something that underpinned the local economy and the region’s peace deal — has dominated Brexit discussions for three years, since U.K. voters chose in 2016 to leave the EU.
Negotiations intensified last week after Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said they could see a “pathway” to a divorce agreement that avoids a no-deal Brexit, something economists say would hurt the U.K. and EU economies.
If a Brexit deal is reached, it needs to be approved by both the British and European parliaments. Many British lawmakers — on both pro-Brexit and pro-EU sides of the debate — remain unpersuaded.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Sunday that his party was unlikely to support any deal agreed upon by Johnson.