Following a day of intense negotiations, sources in both Brussels and London said the details of a possible deal were ‘within sight’.
However, with talks set to go to the wire, both sides cautioned that negotiations could still stall or even collapse ahead of tomorrow’s crunch EU summit in Brussels.
A Whitehall insider said: ‘There is progress, but one mis-step and it can all turn to dust.’
An EU official involved in the talks said the bloc was ‘very confident’ a deal would be struck overnight. But a senior French official urged ‘extreme prudence’ about predicting a deal would be done.
The Prime Minister has been warned that even with a deal ironing out the details of his Northern Ireland plan could take months, forcing him to abandon his ‘do or die’ pledge to leave the European Union by October 31.
But in a boost for Mr Johnson, a group of so-called Spartan MPs – Brexiteers who rejected Theresa May’s deal three times – emerged from talks at No10 indicating that they would vote for the latest proposals.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, chairman of the European Research Group of MPs, said: ‘I am optimistic that it is possible to reach a tolerable deal I am able to vote for.’
A spokesman for 10 Downing Street (Boris Johnson is pictured outside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday) said: ‘We’re working hard. The talks remain constructive – but we know time constraints’
Michel Barnier (pictured left arriving for a meeting at the European Convention Center in Luxembourg on Tuesday) said: ‘Agreement will be difficult but IS possible this week’. While Leo Varadkar (pictured right speaking to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin on Tuesday) said: ‘PM said he’s confident he could get deal through Commons’
And should a deal be reached, a draft text of the agreement could be published today if Downing Street gives it the go ahead, according to senior EU and British sources who spoke to The Guardian.
Mr Johnson knows he must have members of the ERG, a band of hardline Tory Eurosceptics, on board or his deal has little chance of making it through a vote in the House of Commons.
It was his predecessor Theresa May’s failure to secure the ERG’s support that led to her Withdrawal Agreement being defeated three times.
Mark Francois said a meeting with Mr Johnson was ‘interesting’ and added ‘there’ll be further chats to have’, while former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and anti-EU battler Sir Bill Cash MP also emerged from Downing Street.
However, senior figures in both the EU and Westminster warned that Mr Johnson will be forced to seek another Brexit delay even if a deal is done this week.
A senior German government official told The Times that political agreement on a deal would not be sufficient ‘to resolve technical issues’ and therefore Brexit would need to be postponed for a third time until January 1.
‘Without a deal this week, Britain will need an extension. With a deal this week, Britain will need an extension,’ a senior EU diplomatic source said.
In an ominous development, the DUP said it was not yet prepared to back Mr Johnson’s proposals. After leader Arlene Foster and deputy Nigel Dodds held a 90-minute meeting in Downing Street last night, a party spokesman said: ‘It would be fair to indicate gaps remain and further work is required.’
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Here is how the coming weeks could pan out:
Wednesday: The final deadline for having an agreement place for sign-off by EU leaders.
Thursday-Friday: A crunch EU summit in Brussels. Any deal could be signed off by leaders here. If the talks have broken down, expect Boris Johnson to either boycott the event, or stage a dramatic walkout.
Saturday: Parliament will sit on Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War.
If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal. Mr Johnson is likely to force a vote to make MPs ‘own’ any delay, having said he would rather ‘die in a ditch’ than accept one.
If there is a deal in place, there will be a make-or-break vote on whether to back it. If passed by the Commons, the government will start rushing legislation through Parliament immediately.
Monday: Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will let Mr Johnson trigger an election after an extension has been secured.
This would probably be the first day when a motion can be brought to a vote under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, or a confidence vote can be held.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU, which Mr Johnson has previously described as ‘do or die’.
Mrs Foster said earlier she would ‘do what’s best for the Union’.
The DUP is insisting that Northern Ireland must leave the EU together with the rest of the UK.
Asked whether she trusted Mr Johnson to protect Northern Ireland’s interests, Mrs Foster said: ‘I don’t trust anyone else in these negotiations. I trust myself.’
Last night’s apparent breakthrough came after the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier set a midnight deadline for talks to conclude so details of any agreement could be drawn up for tomorrow’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels. He said: ‘Even if the agreement will be difficult, more and more difficult to be frank, it is still possible.’
A Whitehall source said negotiations would go to the wire, adding: ‘The big moments in the EU have all been done at one minute to midnight. There is no expectation this will be any different.’
Last night, Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost remained locked in talks inside the EU Commission’s headquarters to reach the midnight deadline. The British team was still pushing for a ‘hybrid’ customs arrangement that would allow the UK to claim Northern Ireland was leaving the EU’s customs jurisdiction under the terms of the Irish backstop designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
Brussels sources said the UK had offered major concessions by moving closer to the EU demand for Northern Ireland to stay in the bloc’s customs union and creating a customs border in the Irish Sea.
But there was irritation in Downing Street last night about efforts by the EU to ‘bounce’ Mr Johnson into further concessions by suggesting a deal was all but done. ‘We have made good progress, but there is still a way to go, a source said. ‘It’s going to go through the night – and it could all still fall apart.’
If a deal is struck, MPs could sit on Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War to approve it.
No10 said Parliament would be asked to work ‘around the clock’ for an October 31 Brexit.
Arlene Foster (pictured speaking at the Manchester Convention Centre last month) said: ‘We need to stick to our principles and get deal that respects UK integrity’
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (pictured arriving for a meeting of the EU General Affairs Council at the European Convention Centre in Luxembourg on Tuesday) said: ‘We need to give talks space – but deal is very possible’
If a deal is not struck, Mr Johnson faces a clash with Parliament and the courts over a controversial law requiring him to seek a Brexit delay until the end of January.
Even if there is an agreement, former justice secretary David Gauke said pro-Remain MPs would insist on another delay to ensure any deal gets full parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr Gauke, one of 21 former Tory rebels Mr Johnson needs to win back, said he and his colleagues would only back a deal if Mr Johnson agreed to ask for more time.
‘If he gets a deal I would be supportive,’ he said. ‘But I wouldn’t want to be in a position where we vote for a deal on Saturday, something then goes wrong in the next 12 days and we crash out without a deal on October 31.’
Pound spikes on hopes Brexit deal is close
Amid a frantic last push for an agreement, the Pound was near its peak since the summer against the US dollar, at over 1.28
The Pound was hovering at its highest levels for months this afternoon amid rising optimism over a Brexit deal.
Amid a frantic last push for an agreement, sterling was near its peak since the summer against the US dollar, at over 1.28 at 3pm.
Meanwhile, it was above 1.16 versus the euro – rates not seen since May.
Michel Barnier and Steve Barclay fuelled hopes that a Brexit deal is close this morning as they insisted it is ‘very possible’ to seal a package for a crunch EU summit this week.
Stephen Kinnock, one of the Labour moderates whose votes are being targeted by No10, also said there would ‘need to be an extension’ even if a deal is struck this week to push through the complex divorce legislation.
German officials and French President Emmanuel Macron warned that a delay may be needed to iron out details of Mr Johnson’s complex proposal for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
One senior EU source said: ‘Without a deal this week, Britain will need an extension. With a deal this week, Britain will need an extension.’
Irish premier Leo Varadkar suggested Mr Johnson will only be offered an agreement in principle at the summit.
He said: ‘Indications are that we are making progress. But whether we’ll be able to conclude a revised Withdrawal Agreement, which is an international treaty, for the summit, that’s unclear.’
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons and a former ERG chair, told LBC: ‘I think the votes are there now for a deal.’
But, in an interview with The Sun, former environment secretary Owen Paterson dubbed it ‘unacceptable’ that Mr Johnson was reportedly preparing to agree to a border down the Irish Sea, creating custom checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
While still in office, Mrs May said such an arrangement could never be accepted by a British prime minister.
Mr Paterson said: ‘We await the full details of the new deal to see exactly how they address the objections to the dead Theresa May deal, but dual-tariff systems like this would be, as Priti Patel has said, unacceptable.’
Mr Johnson was meeting Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg in Downing Street on Tuesday
The DUP, in a statement after their second audience with the PM in as many days, were also decidedly lukewarm on the mooted proposals.
‘We respect the fact negotiations are ongoing and therefore cannot give a detailed commentary but it would be fair to indicate gaps remain and further work is required,’ a spokesman said.
What is the Irish backstop and why is it so divisive?
The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the existing Brexit deal. This is what it means:
What is the backstop?
The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.
The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition period if that deal is not in place.
It effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.
This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK, restricting its ability to do its own trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it?
Because the UK is leaving the customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees that people and goods circulating inside its border – in this case in Ireland – met its rules.
This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains the status quo, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.
But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between the transition and final deal.
Why do critics hate it?
Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop.
Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree and Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.
Leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds slipped out of the back exit of Downing Street and avoided waiting journalists following the meeting.
Number 10 officials were privately playing down suggestions of a Brussels breakthrough and the PM’s decision to hold Cabinet in the late afternoon indicated that negotiators still require time to finalise a deal before Thursday’s crunch European Council summit.
Addressing journalists on Tuesday, the PM’s official spokesman said: ‘Talks remain constructive but there is more work still to do.’
A deal will need to be published, along with a legal text, if the EU27 are to consider ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement at their gathering this week, meaning the pressure is on to sign off on the draft agreement.
Bitter wrangling between Britain and the bloc over whether a deal is possible came after both sides fueled hopes of a breakthrough.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay made a surprise dash to Luxembourg for the meeting of ministers this morning, saying a deal was ‘very possible’.
Mr Johnson postponed a Cabinet meeting amid a final push – after DUP leader Arlene Foster came to Downing Street for 90 minutes of talks on Monday night.
The PM also had a ‘constructive’ 20-minute call with Mr Macron.
An aide to the French president told reporters there was ‘positive momentum’ behind the talks. He is said to have told Mr Johnson he was not keen on a delay, but raised the prospect of a ‘technical’ extension, potentially a few more weeks to finalise a deal.
That would be ferociously resisted by Mr Johnson as a breach of his ‘do or die’ vow, but could be unavoidable as MPs will force him to accept it.
The Pound spiked on signs that the two sides are homing in on an agreement, with the UK putting put forward a new legal text designed to bridge the gap on customs checks.
Earlier, Mr Barnier insisted completing the ‘difficult’ process was ‘possible’ this week.
Arriving to brief EU ministers in Luxembourg, he said: ‘Reaching an agreement is still possible. Obviously, any agreement must work for all, the whole of the UK and the whole of the EU.
‘Let me add also that it is high time to turn good intentions in a legal text.’
Brexit Secretary Mr Barclay appealed for ‘space’, adding: ‘Detailed conversations are under way and a deal is still very possible.’
However, Mr Barnier reportedly told ministers at a private meeting that time is short and the blueprint is not yet ready
No10 was buoyed on Monday when Irish deputy PM Simon Coveney said an agreement was still ‘possible’ this week.
But Finnish PM Antti Rinne, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU, on Monday night played down hopes of a breakthrough on the Irish border.
‘I think there is no time in a practical or legal way to find an agreement before the EU Council meeting,’ he said. ‘We need more time and we need to have negotiations after the meeting.’
What are the sticking points in the Brexit talks?
Last week Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar came up with the principles of a new blueprint that brought Brexit talks back from the dead.
However, while both sides are now entertaining the idea that a deal could be possible, significant sticking points remain.
Customs checks: Mr Johnson’s proposed way forward is thought to involve Northern Ireland leaving the EU’s customs union along with the rest of the UK.
However, the bloc’s tariffs would be collected on goods heading to the province from mainland Britain in a so-called ‘customs partnership’ so that they are all EU compliant when they arrive on the island of Ireland.
If those goods then stayed in Northern Ireland – and within the UK – then the business receiving them would be eligible for a rebate on the EU tariff charged.
The EU is concerned about the complexity of the plan, the potential for smuggling, and whether technology exists to implement it.
Northern Irish Consent: The two sides are also thought to have come up with a democratic consent mechanism for Northern Ireland to give the assembly a say on what should happen with border arrangements in the future.
However, they have hit problems on the technical feasibility of the proposals amid concerns that the offer made by the UK would effectively give the DUP a veto.
A compromise is believed to be in the works but it is currently unclear exactly what it is.
Fears PM’s plan is basically the same as one considered by Theresa May: The customs partnership model which Mr Johnson is believed to have offered the EU is broadly based on proposals previously explored by Mrs May. Those proposals were dismissed at the time as being too difficult to implement.
There are also concerns that they will effectively mean Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK – a red line for the DUP and hardline Brexiteers.
Mr Johnson is anxious to get a deal agreed before Saturday, when legislation requiring him to seek another Brexit delay kicks in.
The PM has said he will lead Britain out of the EU on October 31 come what may.
But any attempt to get around the law would lead to a clash with the courts and could spark a Cabinet walkout led by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
After the meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Mr Covenet said: ‘I don’t want to raise expectations about later on today or this evening but if there is going to be a positive report to EU leaders tomorrow in advance of an EU Summit, then clearly a big step forward needs to happen today to build on what has been slow but steady progress.
‘We are not putting any deadlines on these discussions. It’s possible to move beyond the summit and continue talks next week.’
He added: ’If the deal can’t be done today or tomorrow then the leaders will have to decide what kind of mandate they want to give Michel Barnier and the UK side will have to respond as well as to how to proceed.’
No10 poured cold water on the apparent deadline set by Mr Barnier for a legal text.
Asked if he recognises the deadline, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We are working hard. The Prime Minister is aware of the time constraints that we are under.
‘We want to make progress towards securing a deal as soon as possible and we want to make progress ahead of the EU council on Thursday.’
Mr Johnson told Mr Macron that UK officials would ‘continue to work hard’ on securing a Brexit deal, the spokesman said.
‘The Prime Minister said that in advance of the EU council UK officials would continue to work hard on securing a deal,’ according to the spokesman.
‘The PM and the president also expressed their deep concerns at the Turkish incursion and agreed to continue to stay in close contact.’
Belgian deputy prime minister Didier Reynders said: ‘We are in the last hours of real negotiation.
‘I am hoping it is possible to have a deal, but we have a high level of solidarity with Ireland from the beginning and we are trying to protect the integrity of the internal market, the single market…
‘If we have an agreement tonight it will be possible to go to the Council and then again to the British parliament.
‘It’s not easy, we have some red lines. They are well known by all the partners, and I am hoping it will be possible today to make some progress.’
French president Emmanuel Macron (pictured with Donald Tusk on Monday) raised the prospect of an extension to the UK’s departure date in a phone call with Mr Johnson
Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that the EU would work ‘until the last minute’ to seal an agreement.
In a speech to German industry, she added that the UK was going to be ‘another competitor on Europe’s doorstep and that will require the EU even more strongly to be competitive and to take geopolitical responsibility.’
In a fresh headache for the premier, Remainer MPs are demanding he agrees an extension even if a Brexit deal is sealed at the EU summit.
Amber Rudd says Theresa May’s Brexit deal failed because Tory MPs are SEXIST
Amber Rudd on Tuesday blamed the ‘sexism’ of male Tory MPs for Theresa May’s failure to get her Brexit deal through the House of Commons.
The former Cabinet minister said she had been ‘disappointed’ by the way Mrs May had been ‘forced out by a group of men’.
And she predicted that any agreement Boris Johnson brings back from Brussels will be passed even though it will be ‘similar’.
The bruising accusations against the Eurosceptic ERG group of Tory MPs came in an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live.
But ERG chairman Steve Baker dismissed the PM’s gender as ‘irrelevant’, saying he had always been willing to vote for a ‘tolerable’ deal.
Ms Rudd campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, famously swiping during a TV debate that Mr Johnson was ‘not the man you want to drive you home at the end of the evening’.
She served in Mrs May’s Cabinet and was kept on as Work and Pension Secretary by Mr Johnson this summer.
Former Cabinet minister David Gauke insisted on Tuesday that a ‘technical’ extension will be needed as there is no time to ratify any agreement before October 31.
There are fears among some MPs that Eurosceptics will try a ‘double-cross’, by voting in favour of a deal – but then blocking the legislation to implement it.
That would satisfy the terms of the Benn Act, releasing the PM from the obligation to beg for a delay, and pave the way for No Deal at Halloween.
But environment minister Zac Goldsmith flatly rejected the idea of a delay.
‘I don’t think an extension is necessary. If both sides wish to secure a deal, a deal can be secured,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
‘It’s a matter of political will. Where there’s a will there is a way, and that has never been more true than in the case of Brexit.
‘And I think it is really important that we don’t continue to extend and extend and extend which is what we’ve been doing for the last few years, because there are issues of trust there.’
Downing Street has been tight-lipped about the latest compromise plans, which emerged from head-to-head talks between Mr Johnson and Mr Varadkar last week.
But the decision to delay Cabinet increased speculation that a deal is close.
A government source said: ‘There is a feeling there is no point holding a Cabinet meeting if the PM can’t brief ministers on the deal and that maybe things will look different in a day or two.’
Sources said the PM was considering a call to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday to help speed up the process.
As EU ministers met in Luxembourg, Mr Johnson’s Brexit ‘sherpa’ David Frost was starting another round of negotiations with the commission officials in Brussels.
Mr Coveney said on Monday it was still ‘possible’ to strike a Brexit deal by the end of the week.
He also appeared to suggest that those briefing against Mr Johnson’s new proposal should stop.
EU sources say the Republic of Ireland is very keen on Mr Johnson’s latest plan for breaking the border backstop deadlock.
But Mr Barnier previously trashed the plan, insisting it would be ‘very difficult’ to do a deal in time for Britain to leave on October 31.
Brussels sources last night denied divisions between EU capitals and Mr Barnier over his hardline stance, insisting he was not the ‘roadblock’ to a deal.
Despite major concessions made by Mr Johnson, Mr Barnier told EU ambassadors on Sunday night that the UK’s proposals would cause ‘the unravelling of the EU’s customs code’, that they are ‘untested’ and could open up the single market to fraud.
Mr Johnson’s alternative for replacing the backstop is thought to be a dual customs arrangement which would see Northern Ireland subject to EU tariffs on goods, but de facto remain within the UK’s customs jurisdiction.
Nicola Sturgeon claims ‘cast iron mandate’ for second Scottish independence vote
Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday issued a fresh rallying cry for Scottish independence as she claimed the SNP is ‘winning the case’ for a split from the rest of the UK.
The Scottish First Minister told activists at the SNP’s annual conference in Aberdeen that ‘it is time to take charge of our own future’ as she claimed there was a ‘cast iron mandate’ for a second referendum.
She then reiterated her demand for a second vote on independence to take place next year.
Ms Sturgeon also used her address to launch a series of attacks on Boris Johnson’s ‘disastrous’ Brexit strategy as she insisted that a No Deal divorce from the EU was ‘unthinkable’.
The SNP’s bid to secure Scottish independence failed in 2014 as voters backed staying part of the UK by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
But Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly called for a re-run of the poll and believes that the 2016 Brexit referendum when Scotland voted to Remain in the EU could shift the result in her favour.
At the weekend, Jacob Rees-Mogg said he was ready to ‘eat my own words’ and back the ‘dual customs’ plan, which he previously opposed.
However, the Democratic Unionist Party continue to express doubts over the plan.
Arriving for a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, Mr Coveney said: ‘I think, as Leo Varadkar has said, a deal is possible and it’s possible this month, it may even be possible this week.
‘But we’re not there yet, and as Michel Barnier said on Monday there is still a lot of work to do, so I hope that we can make more progress today.’
The Pound was hovering at its highest levels for months on Tuesday amid rising optimism.
Amid a frantic last push for an agreement, sterling was near its peak since the summer against the US dollar, at over 1.26.
Meanwhile, it was above 1.146 versus the euro – rates not seen since May.
It comes as The Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for any Brexit deal to be put to voters in a referendum.
If the amendment backing a so-called ‘people’s vote’ is selected by the Commons Speaker, it could be voted on by MPs as early as Tuesday.
Party leader Jo Swinson said: ‘The Liberal Democrats are the strongest party of Remain and have been the leading voice in the people’s vote campaign.
‘Boris Johnson is determined to have a general election, but the best way to resolve the Brexit chaos is to have a people’s vote and give the British people the final say about their future.
‘The best deal we have is as members of the European Union and we want to give the people the chance to choose to stop Brexit.’
The amendment reads: ‘Instruct the Government to prepare for a people’s vote in which the public will have the choice between the latest Withdrawal Agreement and remaining in the European Union.’
But the Conservative Party’s deputy chairman said MPs ‘can’t pick and choose which votes they respect’.
Paul Scully MP said: ‘Yesterday the Liberal Democrats wanted to ignore 17.4 million voters by revoking Brexit, today they want to do it by holding a second referendum.
‘Whatever they wake up saying tomorrow, it’s clear that what you’ll get with them is more delay, gridlock and uncertainty.
‘Politicians can’t pick and choose which votes they respect.’
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