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UK, Irish leaders to meet as Brexit deal hopes wane

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street in London on Thursday. Photo Credit: AP/Alastair Grant

LONDON — The leaders of Britain and Ireland were meeting Thursday in an attempt to find common ground for an elusive Brexit deal, with just three weeks until the U.K. is set to leave the European Union.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar were scheduled to hold a private lunch meeting in northwest England.

Britain is due to leave the 28-nation bloc on Oct. 31, and attempts to find a deal have foundered over plans for the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland.

The currently all-but-invisible border underpins both the regional economy and Northern Ireland's peace process.

Under a U.K. proposal, there would have to be customs checks on some goods, though not on the border itself. The EU says any customs checks are unacceptable.

In recent days, Britain and the EU have traded bad-tempered barbs about who is responsible for the deadlock in talks.

After Johnson's Downing Street office claimed EU intransigence had made it "essentially impossible" for the U.K. to leave with a deal, European Commission President Donald Tusk warned against playing a "stupid blame game."

Varadkar and other EU leaders say Johnson, who took office in July, has repudiated the withdrawal agreement made with the bloc by his predecessor, Theresa May. That deal was rejected three times by Britain's Parliament, largely because of lawmakers' opposition to provisions to ensure an open Irish border.

Johnson insists the U.K. will leave the U.K. on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal.

However, many members of Britain's Parliament are determined to prevent a no-deal Brexit, which economists say would plunge the U.K. economy into recession. Last month, they passed a law requiring the government to ask the EU for a delay if no divorce deal has been agreed by Oct. 19 — the day after a key summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

Johnson says he won't delay Brexit past Oct. 31 — but also will obey the law. It's unclear how the two statements can be reconciled.

Parliament is expected to hold a rare Saturday sitting on Oct. 19 as lawmakers grapple with what to do next.

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