Disagreement over Irish backstop and cabinet unrest means November EU leaders summit could make way for ‘no deal’ planning
Brexit negotiations are entering a make-or-break 36-hour period, amid reports that no-deal contingency planning could be ramped up unless a deal is signed off between the UK cabinet and Brussels by Thursday morning.
Much hyperbole has surrounded the negotiations over the past two and half years, but it is no exaggeration to say the next two days are crunch time for Theresa May.
Following a frantic back-and-forth between UK and EU negotiators over the weekend that extended well into Monday morning, The Times, the Daily Mail, Financial Times and The Sun all concluded Britain has until Wednesday evening to strike a deal.
Downing Street said that there were still “substantial issues still to be overcome” in relation to the so-called backstop measure aimed at preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
On a day of high drama in Westminster, a Downing Street spokesman downplayed the prospect of an imminent Brexit deal despite a report in the FT that the main elements of a Brexit treaty text were ready to present to the UK cabinet today.
“Technically speaking, the text is ready. But there is no political agreement from their side,” a senior EU diplomat said.
The delay means cabinet ministers will not discuss whether to sign off the deal at the regular cabinet meeting today, “although Brexit will be on the agenda” says The Independent.
The Guardian goes further and suggests that Britain “has all but given up on a special Brexit summit at the end of November as there remain too many sticking points to complete the talks in the time originally hoped for”.
“This means having to authorise No Deal projects for new IT systems and projects to protect Britain’s borders” says The Sun. The paper reports that 15 November is also the deadline for Ministers to place an order for ships to bring in necessary supplies and to put plans in place to stockpile medicines in case of a chaotic no deal.
One source said: “It’s going down to the wire. If it doesn’t happen this week it will have to be a December summit – and it all gets much tighter”, raising the question of whether there is even time to get a last-ditch deal through Parliament before Christmas.
The BBC reports that a growing number of Tory MPs are warning the prime minister that her Brexit plan will not be approved by Parliament, while Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer has said MPs will not allow the UK to leave without a negotiated agreement and “technically” the whole process can be stopped.
Economists polled by Reuters last week said there remains a one-in-four chance that London and Brussels will fail to reach a deal on the terms of departure.
“It’s important to remember Number 10 urgently needs this done now, which may yet be enough to force the issue”, says Politico. “So for all the gloomy messages being pushed by both sides — and for all Theresa May’s domestic strife — don’t be too surprised if the breakthrough suddenly happens, and fast.”