Michel Barnier says it is ‘realistic’ to hope a Brexit divorce deal can be done within ‘six to eight weeks’ amid claims EU leaders are mounting ‘Operation Save Theresa’
- The EU’s 27 leaders to discuss whether to issue Michel Barnier more guidance
- Ambassadors reportedly briefed on possibility of more conciliatory approach
- If approved, Mr Barnier’s updated instructions ‘serve as sort of mandate to deal’
- Pound surges to five-week high against US dollar on optimism from Mr Barnier
Michel Barnier today insisted it is ‘realistic’ to hope a Brexit divorce deal can be sealed within ‘six to eight weeks’.
The EU negotiator voiced optimism that the terms of the UK’s withdrawal, including the vexed issue of the Irish border, can be sealed by the beginning of November.
The comments – which caused sterling to rise sharply against the US dollar – came amid claims EU leaders are paving the way for a ‘fudge’ on Brexit.
The 27 states are expected to give Mr Barnier more scope and order him to do a deal with Theresa May rather than allow Britain to crash out of the bloc.
The conciliatory move has been dubbed a ‘save Theresa operation’, as fears mount that the PM could be ousted and replaced by a hardline Brexiteer like Boris Johnson.
The prospect of an agreement could bolster Mrs May as she tries to sell her Chequers plan to a mutinous Tory party.
Speaking at a forum in Slovenia this afternoon, Mr Barnier said: ‘I think if we are realistic we are able to reach an agreement on the first stage of the work – which is the Brexit treaty – within six to eight weeks.
‘We must reach an agreement by the beginning of November.’
EU negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured in Solvenia today) voiced optimism that the terms of the UK’s withdrawal can be sealed by the beginning of November
The 27 states are expected to order Michel Barnier to do a deal with Theresa May (pictured at No10 today) rather than allow Britain to crash out of the bloc
After Mr Barnier’s remarks the Pound rose more than one per cent to top $ 1.30, its highest level in five weeks
The Pound rose more than one per cent to top $ 1.30, its highest level in five weeks.
It also hit a four-week high against the euro at 88.96.
The EU’s remaining leaders are expected to discuss whether to issue additional guidance to Mr Barnier at an informal summit in Salzburg, Austria, later this month.
Ambassadors in Brussels have been briefed on the possibility that the EU could take a more conciliatory approach to the negotiations, according to the Financial Times.
If approved, the update to Mr Barnier’s instructions would ‘serve as a sort of mandate to do the deal’, according to a senior EU diplomat.
Mrs May’s official spokesman today said: ‘We have evolved our pwn position and we have set out that we want the EU to evolve theirs, how they do that is obviously a matter for them.
‘But we have said throughout that we want these talks to be approached with imagination and with creativity.’
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has blamed a ‘dogmatic’ approach to negotiations for the limited progress made so far on a deal.
One EU diplomat described the possibility of new guidelines as a ‘save Theresa’ operation, according to the newspaper.
What is in Theresa May’s Brexit blueprint?
These are some of the key features of the Chequers plan being pushed by the UK government:
- A new free trade area in goods, based on a ‘common rulebook’ of EU regulations necessary. This will require the UK to commit by treaty to match EU rules
- ‘Mobility’ rules which will end automatic freedom of movement, but still allow UK and EU citizens to travel without visas for tourism and temporary work. It will also enable businesses to move staff between countries.
- Continued UK participation in and funding of European agencies covering areas like chemicals, aviation safety and medicines
- A ‘facilitated customs arrangement’, removing the need for customs checks at UK-EU ports. It would allow differing UK and EU tariffs on goods from elsewhere in the world to be paid at the border, removing the need for rebates in the vast majority of cases. In theory this allows Britain to sign trade deals.
- Keeping services – such as banking or legal support – outside of the common rule book, meaning the UK is completely free to set its own regulations. It accepts it will mean less trade in services between the UK and EU.
- Continued co-operation on energy and transport, a ‘common rulebook’ on state aid and commitments to maintain high standards of environmental and workplace protections.
- A security deal allowing continued UK participation in Europol and Eurojust, ‘co-ordination’ of UK and EU policies on foreign affairs, defence and development.
- Continued use of the EHIC health insurance card.
‘We aren’t expecting the EU to change Mr Barnier’s guidelines, but we hope the leaders will tell them to interpret them in such a way as to make a deal possible,’ a senior British official told the Financial Times.
It came as a former Brexit minister warned Mrs May risks a ‘catastrophic’ split at next month’s Tory conference if she persists with her Chequers plan.
Steve Baker, who resigned over the plan in July, said the Prime Minister would face a ‘massive problem’ unless she abandoned her flagship policy before the gathering of the party faithful in Birmingham.
He added there was still time for Mrs May to pursue a more conventional free trade deal that the party would support.
‘We are reaching the point now where it is extremely difficult to see how we can rescue the Conservative Party from a catastrophic split if the Chequers proposals are carried forward,’ he said.
‘I am gravely concerned for the future of our party… because I recognise that the Labour opposition represents a severe danger to our security and prosperity.’
Mrs May has ordered her chief of staff Gavin Barwell and communications director Robbie Gibb to sell the Chequers plan to backbench MPs at a series of dinners this week.
She will also convene a special meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday to co-ordinate contingency plans for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.
Meanwhile, former Cabinet ministers David Davis and Owen Paterson will outline proposals designed to overcome the Irish border issue that has dogged the Brexit talks.
Eurosceptics will push ahead tomorrow with a major new study on the impact of a no-deal Brexit. The report by the Economists for Free Trade group dismisses ‘hysteria’ over predicted food shortages and says the UK economy would benefit from trading on World Trade Organisation terms.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Tory MPs, said: ‘We have nothing to fear from trading on WTO terms… Let Brexit mean Brexit and let us flourish under the auspices of the WTO.’
The document says UK exports to WTO countries have risen three times faster than those to the EU over the past 25 years.
The EU is preparing to issue Michel Barnier (pictured right with Dominic Raab) softer instructions for negotiating Brexit
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