Num­ber 10 plays down Brexit break­through talk

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DOWN­ING Street has played down sug­ges­tions that a Brexit deal is im­mi­nent af­ter Euro­pean Coun­cil pres­i­dent Donald Tusk ap­peared to in­di­cate a break­through could come within the next week.

A se­nior UK Govern­ment source said that re­ports in the Euro­pean me­dia that a deal could come in the next few days should be taken “with a very large pinch of salt”.

Mean­while, Ir­ish for­eign min­is­ter Si­mon Coveney cau­tioned against as­sum­ing that the rest of the EU would nec­es­sar­ily back any exit plans agreed by the UK Cabi­net.

The UK Govern­ment is still work­ing on the pre­cise word­ing of a pro­posed re­view mech­a­nism which might cre­ate a means – short of a full trade deal – to bring an end to a tem­po­rary back­stop ar­range­ment for the Ir­ish bor­der.

Se­nior min­is­ters are poised to meet as soon as a deal is ready to be signed off, with spec­u­la­tion over a spe­cial Cabi­net meet­ing as early as Satur­day or Mon­day.

Aus­tria’s Der Stan­dard news­pa­per quoted Euro­pean Com­mis­sion sources at a sum­mit in Fin­land as say­ing that EU chief ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier and Brexit Sec­re­tary Do­minic Raab could meet in the next few days to seal an agree­ment and pave the way for a spe­cial sum­mit of EU lead­ers in Brus­sels on November 25.

Asked about the prospects of a break­through in the com­ing week, Mr Tusk said: “I hope so… but still we need maybe five, maybe six, maybe seven days.”

A Down­ing Street source stressed that no agree­ment had yet been reached and no Cabi­net meet­ing sched­uled.

“We are still in ne­go­ti­a­tions, and on that ba­sis we don’t know when and if this will con­clude,” he said.

Mr Coveney told the Ir­ish Canada Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence in Dublin: “I would urge cau­tion that an im­mi­nent break­through is not nec­es­sar­ily to be taken for granted, not by a long shot.

“Re­peat­edly peo­ple seem to make the same mis­take over and over again, as­sum­ing that if the Bri­tish Cabi­net agrees some­thing, well, then that’s it then, ev­ery­thing is agreed.

“This is a ne­go­ti­a­tion and needs to be an agree­ment of course be­tween the Bri­tish Govern­ment, but also with the Euro­pean Union and the 27 coun­tries that are rep­re­sented by Michel Barnier and his ne­go­ti­at­ing team.

“So while of course we want progress to be made and we want it to be made as quickly as pos­si­ble be­cause time is mov­ing on, I would urge cau­tion that peo­ple don’t get car­ried away on the back of ru­mour in the com­ing days.”

Theresa May last month told MPs that 95 per cent of the deal had been agreed, although the key stick­ing point of the ‘back­stop’ to pre­vent a hard bor­der be­tween Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land re­mained un­re­solved.

Her plan would see the whole UK ef­fec­tively agree to re­main in the cus­toms union to help avoid a hard bor­der with Ire­land as a back­stop if no other ar­range­ment can be found.

Brex­i­teer MPs, in­clud­ing En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove, have called on Mrs May to re­lease full le­gal ad­vice set­ting out how the ar­range­ment could be ended to avoid it be­com­ing per­ma­nent.

For­mer Brexit sec­re­tary David Davis said the full Govern­ment le­gal ad­vice on Brexit must be pub­lished and in­sisted how the UK could exit from the cus­toms union must be “pinned down” be­fore MPs and peers vote on the deal.

Leav­ing with­out an agree­ment would mean some “hic­cups in the first year” but the UK would have “all the rights and con­trols over our own destiny”, he added.

Con­ser­va­tive Do­minic Grieve has writ­ten to Cabi­net Sec­re­tary Sir Mark Sed­will call­ing for Govern­ment doc­u­ments ex­plain­ing any fi­nal with­drawal agree­ment to the pub­lic to in­clude a full com­par­i­son with the sta­tus quo as well as with a no deal sce­nario.

Mean­while, Mr Raab was sub­jected to a hail of ridicule af­ter ad­mit­ting he “hadn’t quite un­der­stood the full ex­tent” to which UK trade was “re­liant on the Dover-Calais cross­ing”.

Re­main-back­ing TV sci­en­tist Brian Cox took to Twit­ter to ask: “How could it pos­si­bly come as a sur­prise to Do­minic Raab that our most im­por­tant trade gate­way is that which is clos­est ge­o­graph­i­cally to our most im­por­tant market?”

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