UK negotiators 'to step up tempo' on new deal talks

Boris Johnson has promised a renewed effort to secure a deal with the EU before the Brexit deadline

The UK's Brexit negotiators will now meet their EU counterparts twice a week next month, in the run up to a crucial summit on 17 and 19 October.

It follows a backlash from MPs and opponents of a no-deal Brexit against the prime minister's decision to suspend Parliament next month.

The EU said it expected the UK to come up with "concrete proposals".

A European Commission spokesperson said its "doors remain open" and insisted it had "demonstrated our willingness to work 24/7 throughout this long process".

As things stand, the UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October with or without a "divorce" deal.

The previous government, under Theresa May, agreed a deal with the EU but it was rejected by MPs three times.

Johnson says while he would prefer to reach a deal, he is willing to leave without one - and maintains the UK will leave by the October deadline "no ifs, no buts".

Johnson said he had been "encouraged" by the response from EU leaders but said "it is now time for both sides to step up the tempo".

He also said he had seen "a willingness to talk about alternatives to the anti-democratic backstop".

The backstop - a controversial back-up plan to prevent a hard border in Ireland if no post-Brexit trade deal is agreed - is likely to be at the forefront of the twice weekly discussions between Brussels and the prime minister's lead negotiator, David Frost.

The government reiterated that a new deal would not be agreed unless the withdrawal agreement is reopened and the backstop taken out.

No 10 said the two sides "remain some distance apart on key issues" but added they were "willing to work hard to find a way through".

On Wednesday, Johnson asked the Queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks in September and October, saying he would outline his "very exciting agenda" in a Queen's Speech on 14 October.

But several MPs argue the suspension is in fact designed to stop them from blocking a no-deal Brexit, by denying them enough time to debate.