UK PM cautions on Brexit deal expectations

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cautioned there will be no Brexit breakthrough at talks with European leaders in New York but he says significant progress has been made on striking a deal.

Three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, hopes of a breakthrough were stoked last week when Johnson said the shape of a deal on Britain's departure from the European Union was emerging, and European Commission President Juncker said agreement was possible.

But the two sides are split over London's desire to remove the Irish border "backstop" from the divorce deal struck by Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May.

EU diplomats say no acceptable alternative has been proposed yet by London.

Johnson, who has vowed to deliver Brexit on October 31 with or without a deal, will meet EU leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York including Germany's Angela Merkel and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

He will also discuss progress on reaching a Brexit deal with European Council President Donald Tusk.

"I would caution you all not to think that this is going to be the moment," Johnson told reporters on the plane to New York. "I don't wish to elevate excessively the belief that there will be a New York breakthrough."

Johnson said that while a "great deal" of progress had been made since he took office in July as EU leaders now acknowledged the Withdrawal Agreement reached with his predecessor needed to be changed, there were "clearly still gaps and still difficulties".

Johnson wants to remove the so-called backstop, an insurance policy aimed at avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland by having Britain follow the bloc's rules on trade, state aid, labour and environmental standards so no checks are necessary.

Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. Unless the Irish border backstop is removed or amended, Johnson will not be able to win parliamentary approval but Ireland and the EU are unwilling to sign a deal without a solution to the border.

Britain last week shared technical documents with Brussels setting out its ideas for dealing with the contentious issue of the backstop, although these were not the formal legal proposals Brussels has asked for.

Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on October 17-18.

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