Brexit negotiations intensify ahead of key EU summit but 'more work still to do'

15 October 2019, 19:10

Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday
Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Brexit negotiations have intensified ahead of a key EU summit on Thursday, with reports suggesting Boris Johnson is closing in on a new deal.

The Prime Minister will hold a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday ahead of the Brussels summit, where it is hoping a deal could be agreed.

It is thought Mr Johnson could be nearing an agreement after giving significant ground to the EU over the Irish border.

The Guardian reported senior sources on both sides of the Channel saying that a draft treaty could be published tomorrow morning after the UK agreed in principle there will be a customs border in the Irish Sea.

But the PM's official spokesman said: "Talks remain constructive but there is more work still to do."

Michel Barnier arrives for a meeting of EU General Affairs ministers on Tuesday
Michel Barnier arrives for a meeting of EU General Affairs ministers on Tuesday. Picture: PA

Downing Street sources were also downplaying the chances of a breakthrough being imminent and an EU official stressed "talks are ongoing".

Suggestions a deal was closing in came as Downing Street declined to recognise a midnight deadline apparently set by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Mr Barnier warned Mr Johnson that "it is high time to turn good intentions into legal text".

But the PM's official spokesman said: "We are working hard. The Prime Minister is aware of the time constraints that we are under."

Various members of the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers attended a meeting inside Downing Street on Tuesday afternoon.

Chairman Steve Baker, who said the "constructive talks" were not with the PM, left feeling "optimistic" that a "tolerable deal" might be reached, in a boost for Mr Johnson.

Boris Johnson (right) met Irish leader Leo Varadkar for talks last week
Boris Johnson (right) met Irish leader Leo Varadkar for talks last week. Picture: PA

Mark Francois said the meeting was "interesting" and added "there'll be further chats to have", while former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and MP Sir Bill Cash also emerged from Downing Street.

Meanwhile, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it remained uncertain whether a deal would be ready in time for the Brussels summit.

Mr Varadkar also revealed that the PM told him during their meeting last week he was "confident" he would be able to do what Theresa May thrice failed to do by getting a deal through the House of Commons.

"The initial indications (from the EU) are that we are making progress, negotiations are moving in the right direction," he told reporters.

"But whether we will be able to conclude a revised Withdrawal Agreement, which is an international treaty, in time for the summit, that's as of now unclear."

Downing Street also said Mr Johnson told French president Emmanuel Macron in a phone call that UK officials would "continue to work hard" on securing a Brexit deal.

The two-day EU summit is crucial because the PM must get a new deal approved by MPs by Saturday if he is to avoid a clash over asking for a Brexit delay.

The Benn Act passed by MPs opposed to a no-deal, including Tory rebels, says he must ask for an extension to Article 50 if MPs do not back a deal by then.