Boris Johnson said he was “marginally more optimistic” about the prospects of striking a new Brexit deal but warned that talks with the EU might run up to the October 31 deadline.
Speaking at the end of the G7 summit, the UK prime minister said other EU leaders wanted the Brexit process to be concluded soon, but any breakthrough in negotiations might not come until the moment the UK is set to leave the bloc.
Mr Johnson’s comments came as Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, prepares to convene a meeting with leaders of other opposition parties on Tuesday to consider how to block a no-deal Brexit and possibly form a caretaker government.
Mr Johnson has insisted that the UK will leave the EU at the end of October, with or without a deal. His approach has alarmed many MPs in Westminster who are concerned about the potential disruption resulting from a no-deal scenario. On Monday, the prime minister said that parliament should respect the referendum result.
“I think that it’s the job of everybody in parliament to get this thing done. I think it’s what the people want. I also think, by the way, it’s what our friends and partners on the other side of the Channel want,” he said.
“I do think that the EU does tend to come to an agreement right at the end. Clearly for us, the walking away, as it were, would come on October 31 when we would take steps to come out on the terms for which we will have by then made absolutely colossal and extensive and fantastic preparations.”
Mr Johnson said he was “marginally more optimistic” about striking a new deal after his conversations with fellow European leaders.
His comments followed an earlier warning by a senior British official that EU leaders should not rely on parliament to stop a no-deal Brexit. Mr Johnson told his EU counterparts in bilateral meetings that he did not believe parliament would force him to change tack, according to government sources.
“The prime minister has been very clear to European leaders that he’s seen in the last week that the idea that Brexit is going to be stopped is incorrect. We are leaving on October 31 with a deal or without — the prime minister would prefer it to be a deal,” said one senior British government official.
Mr Corbyn will on Tuesday meet the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Change UK, Plaid Cymru and the Green party to discuss how an alternative government could be formed when parliament returns in September.
Some Conservative rebel MPs, including Dominic Grieve, have also said in the past that they would be willing to meet Mr Corbyn to discuss the best way of preventing a no-deal Brexit.
However, Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, has repeatedly argued that Mr Corbyn risks jeopardising any vote of no confidence in the government by insisting that he alone should be the caretaker prime minister.
On Monday, Ms Swinson warned Mr Corbyn in a letter that “insisting you lead [an] emergency government will . . . jeopardise the chances of a no-confidence vote gaining enough support to pass in the first place.
“As you have said that you would do anything to avoid no deal, I hope you are open to a discussion about how conceding this point may open the door to a no-confidence vote succeeding. Its success must be the priority.”
Ms Swinson argues that two other senior parliamentarians — Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman — could be valid caretaker PMs. Other pro-Remain MPs are focused instead on passing legislation that they hope would force Mr Johnson’s hand.
The prime minister, who made his debut on the world stage in Biarritz, managed to strike a balance by maintaining cordial relations with European leaders while furthering his relationship with Donald Trump, US president.
“I really believe that Boris Johnson will be a great prime minister. We really like each other. And we had a great two and a half days,” Mr Trump said. “I have been waiting for him to be prime minister for about six years. I told him, ‘what took you so long?’”
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