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UK PM claims huge progress in Brexit talks

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British PM confident of getting a deal at EU summit even as another MP defects to pro-European camp

LONDON Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday he was making a "huge amount of progress" towards a Brexit deal with the European Union, in an interview in which he compared Britain to the Incredible Hulk.

"It's going to take a lot of work between now and October 17" when EU leaders gather for their final summit before Britain's scheduled exit from the bloc, he told the Mail on Sunday newspaper.

"But I'm going to go to that summit and I'm going to get a deal, I'm very confident. And if we don't get a deal then we'll come out on October 31."

His comments came ahead of talks with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Mr Michel Barnier, in Luxembourg today.

In an odd analogy, Johnson compared Britain to the comic book character Hulk.

"The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be - and that is the case for this country," he said.

"We will come out on October 31 and we will get it done, believe me."

But the extent of the parliamentary opposition to his approach was laid bare on Saturday when one of his Conservative MPs defected to the pro-European Liberal Democrats.

Former universities minister Sam Gyimah has strongly criticised Mr Johnson's threat to leave the EU with no deal and has called for a re-run of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Rebel Conservatives joined opposition MPs last week to rush through a law to delay Brexit until January if he does not get a deal in time.

Mr Johnson wants to renegotiate the terms struck by his predecessor, Mrs Theresa May, which were rejected by parliament - but EU leaders insist the deal is the best on offer.

The main sticking point is the plan to keep open the land border between the Irish republic, which is part of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which as part of the United Kingdom, will no longer be part of the EU. The so-called backstop plan could keep Britain tied to EU trade rules long after Brexit.

"When I got this job everybody was saying there can be absolutely no change to the withdrawal agreement," Mr Johnson said. "They have already moved off that and, as you know, there's a very, very good conversation going on about how to address the issues of the Northern Irish border.

"A huge amount of progress is being made."

Mr Johnson repeated that "under no circumstances" would he delay Brexit.

Twenty-one Conservative MPs defied Mr Johnson to back the legislation blocking a "no deal" Brexit and were swiftly expelled from the party.

One of them was Mr Gyimah, who now becomes the Liberal Democrats' 18th MP in the 650-seat House of Commons.

He said Saturday: "Boris Johnson created a stark choice for moderate, progressive MPs in the Conservative party - to accept a no-deal Brexit or walk away from public life.

"I choose to continue to fight for the values I have always believed in, as a Liberal Democrat." - AFP