In a meeting of Theresa May’s Cabinet yesterday, the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, reportedly gave his backing to a “mutual review mechanism” for the ending of any temporary customs backstop between the UK and the EU. This comes after reports that the EU has recently shifted towards considering such a mechanism, which would involve an independent arbitration body. According to reports in the Guardian and the Spectator, Cox told the Cabinet that the EU’s shift was a “major step” towards a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement. Cox reportedly added that while such a mechanism would offer firmer legal guarantees if the UK could trigger it unilaterally, one that required mutual consent would not amount to a “veto” for the EU and would be easier to negotiate. However, the Spectator reports that the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, warned that without a unilateral exit mechanism to leave the backstop, the Withdrawal Agreement would struggle to pass the House of Commons. According to the BBC, the Cabinet agreed that reaching a deal this month would be significantly preferable to reaching one in December, though the latter would not be impossible. A Downing Street source told the Sun, “Everyone agrees this has to be wrapped up by Christmas.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Theresa May said the Prime Minister wanted a deal with the EU, but “not at any cost,” adding, “Don’t be under any illusion, there remains a significant amount of work to do.” According to the Guardian, officials from both the Attorney General’s Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union (DexEU) will now start work on a detailed proposal for a backstop review mechanism. A second Cabinet meeting is expected later this week.
Elsewhere, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday told Belgian broadcaster RTBF, “I am not, as I am speaking to you this morning, able to tell you that we are close to reaching an agreement [on the Irish border].” Speaking later at a press conference in Slovakia, he added, “Today we’re not there yet. The clock is still ticking and we will continue the work. Choices have to be made on the British side to finalise this deal.”
Separately, 14 British MEPs have written to their colleagues in the European Parliament urging them to lobby their governments for an extension of the Article 50 process. Most of the 14 are Labour MEPs, but the list also includes MEPs from the Greens, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Plaid Cymru, as well as one Conservative.
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