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It's 'more than about time' for Brexit clarity, Eurogroup chief says

Key Points
  • Businesses in both Europe and the U.K. have struggled to make contingency plans for Brexit due to uncertainty over what the departure will look like.
  • Officials in Brussels maintain that they have seen no new plans for a Northern Irish backstop or other fundamental components of an exit deal since Johnson took office.
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It's 'more than about time' for Brexit clarity, Eurogroup chief says

The chief of the euro zone's group of finance ministers is calling on Westminster to sort itself out for the good of both sides of the Channel, and does not see the Brexit deal 'progress' that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been touting, he told CNBC on Saturday.

"[Brexit] is a structural change — I feel it economically, socially and politically — and we must allow all sorts of economic agents to adapt to it and we have been doing the contrary," Eurogroup President Mario Centeno told CNBC's Steve Sedgwick at the Ambrosetti Forum in Cernobbio, Italy. "So I think it's more than about time to bring clarity into this process, whatever the way out of this political crisis."

Johnson's administration has taken four defeating blows over the course of 48 hours in the last week as lawmakers from across parties joined forces to prevent an early snap election and block the possibility of a no-deal Brexit on October 31. The pound since late July is at its lowest level in three years, and officials in Brussels maintain that they have seen no new plans for a Northern Irish backstop or other fundamental components of an exit deal since Johnson took office.

"It's quite difficult to understand from external side … but I really want British politicians to make a little bit of clarity into this," Centeno, who since 2015 has served as Portugal's finance minister, said. Businesses in both Europe and the U.K. have struggled to make contingency plans for the latter's departure from the bloc, and the uncertainty has significantly stalled investment decisions.

European officials have expressed their bafflement over Johnson's claims that progress is being made on a deal, with Centeno the latest to affirm that he has not seen any new proposals from Westminster that could move negotiations forward.

Mario Centeno, Portugal's finance minister and head of the group of euro-area finance ministers, listens during a press conference following a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. 

"Again, clarity is certainly the word to use... we don't see that positive development going on, so we really need (those) political talks to the outside world, we need it in a transparent way, and in a way that can help us to sort this out," he said.

Nevertheless, the former economics professor maintained a cautious optimism alongside his call for action.

"We have the possibility of negotiations occurring, and success is always around the corner if politicians really put on those shoes and promote those sort of talks," he said. "We need to be clear on the path we drive our economies on, so we really need to find that space to negotiate one way or another because that is part of our everyday business."

"I will say that a deal is of utmost importance for both sides of the channel so let's work to have a deal."