The Latest: Merkel says Irish border is key Brexit issue

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is guided during a visit to the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, south-west England, Monday Aug. 19, 2019. Johnson is under increasing pressure Monday to recall Parliament after leaked government documents warned of widespread problems if the U.K. leaves the European Union without a Brexit withdrawal agreement. (Peter Nicholls/Pool via AP)

LONDON (AP) — The Latest on Britain’s plan to leave the European Union (all times local):

5:10 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the main stumbling block with Britain’s departure from the European Union can be removed if a “practical solution” is found for the Irish border issue.

Speaking Tuesday after a meeting with Nordic countries in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, Merkel says the remaining 27 EU countries are willing to find such a solution and avoid unraveling a carefully negotiated Brexit deal agreed upon with the British government last year.

The deal was repeatedly rejected by U.K. lawmakers, leading to the resignation of British Prime Minister Theresa May. She was replaced by Brexit hardliner Boris Johnson, who wants a new divorce deal.

Merkel, who is hosting Johnson for talks in Berlin late Wednesday, said whichever path Britain chooses the EU is willing to cooperate closely on economic and security issues.

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4:30 p.m.

Britain has decided to stop going to many European Union meetings unless its attendance is crucial so its diplomatic staff can better prepare for its scheduled departure from the bloc on Oct. 31.

UK Secretary of State Steve Barclay said Tuesday that the diplomatic corps “will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours.” He says this will free up staff “to get on with preparing for our departure on October 31 and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead.”

It was another sign that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is bent on leaving the EU “come what may” at the end of October.

Beyond preparing for Brexit, Johnson has said the diplomatic staff will also be working to prepare new relationships with the 27 remaining EU nations and looking for trade agreements with other nations.

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11:40 a.m.

European Council chief Donald Tusk says that as long as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not proposing “realistic alternatives” to the backstop agreement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, he is actually backing “re-establishing a border.”

A key part of the divorce proposals between the EU and Britain centers on keeping the island free of physical borders between EU-member Ireland and the Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

Both sides committed to a “backstop solution” to keep the border open in a deal with former prime minister Theresa May, but new prime minister Johnson vehemently opposes it.

Tusk tweeted that “those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border. Even if they do not admit it.”

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9:30 a.m.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has demanded that the European Union reopen Brexit negotiations, scrapping “anti-democratic” provisions for the Irish border that he says would threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Johnson, who has made similar statements in the past, formally delivered his demands to the EU late Monday in a letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.

Johnson is calling for an end to the so-called backstop, which would keep Britain closely aligned with the European customs union if the two sides can’t agree on other ways to prevent the reintroduction of border checks on people and goods moving between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, after a one-hour call with Johnson on Monday, said the Brexit deal wouldn’t be renegotiated.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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