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Brexit deal getting closer, European Commission chief says

October 6, 2018
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FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 file photo, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his State of Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France. In comments published on Saturday Oct. 6, 2018, Jean-Claude Juncker said the chances of Britain and the bloc striking a Brexit deal are rising, amid reports the two sides are moving closer on the fraught issue of the Irish border. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

LONDON (AP) — The chances of Britain and the European Union striking a Brexit deal on their divorce are rising, one of the bloc’s leaders said, amid reports the two sides are moving closer on the fraught issue of the Irish border.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told three Austrian newspapers in comments published Saturday that “the rapprochement potential between both sides has increased in recent days.”

Negotiations faltered after the EU said last month that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal for post-Brexit economic relations was unacceptable.

The two sides spent days trading bad-tempered barbs, with EU leaders demanding an apology after British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt compared the bloc to the Soviet Union.

But officials have been meeting behind the scenes before a key summit in Brussels on Oct. 17 and 18. EU leaders say there needs to be major progress at the meeting for there to be a deal before Britain leaves the bloc on March 29.

The main obstacle is ensuring there are no customs posts or border checks along the frontier between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Both sides say the border must be kept open, but haven’t agreed on how that can be accomplished.

The Irish border impasse has heightened fears that the U.K. could find itself crashing out of the bloc without a deal. The U.K. government has acknowledged that could leave planes grounded and trucks backed up at British ports.

Juncker said a “no-deal” Brexit would be bad for both Britain and the EU.

“Our will is unbroken to reach agreement with the British government,” he said.

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