U.K. Plans Brexit Cabinet But the Deal's Not Yet Done

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The U.K. Cabinet will discuss Brexit on Tuesday, but Prime Minister Theresa May probably won’t ask ministers to approve the terms of a deal, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The premier is likely to update ministers on the past two weeks’ of technical negotiations that have been taking place at a less senior level, the person said. The U.K. and European Union pushed back against weekend newspaper reports a divorce deal is in the bag.

But both sides also held open the possibility that a special summit could be called in November to get an agreement signed, and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he was willing to consider the latest U.K. proposal.

May’s team hopes to sign a deal with the EU later this month, but the bloc won’t call the meeting until it’s sure it won’t be another futile summit. The U.K. is aiming to get a deal agreed so that it can be signed off at a summit in late November, according to the person, who is familiar with the U.K. position.

Both sides say there’s more work to do. And how to avoid a border on the island of Ireland, without putting up barriers between Northern Ireland and the British mainland, remains the stumbling block. The clause they are fighting over is known as the backstop, as it’s meant to act as a guarantee that police and checkpoints won’t return to the Irish border.

Backstop Haggling

The U.K. is trying to get the EU to accept its version of the backstop instead of the European one, which May says is unacceptable as it could end up separating Northern Ireland from the mainland. The U.K.’s version would keep the whole U.K. inside the EU’s customs regime as a fallback.

  • The U.K. is looking for a mechanism to ensure the U.K. isn’t tied to the EU customs regime “indefinitely”
  • It wants to make sure any temporary arrangement is written into the legally binding exit agreement
  • The U.K. wants to make sure there will be no possibility of a border emerging down the Irish Sea

Varadkar said he was willing to consider a “review” mechanism proposed by the U.K., as long as the U.K. can’t unilaterally abandon its promises. While that could be useful for May to help her sell an agreement, the Irish government is clear that it won’t sign up to the kind of review clause that Brexit hardliners want.

U.K. Plans Brexit Cabinet But the Deal's Not Yet Done

An EU official also said the bloc was willing to consider a review clause. But if one is included, then the EU’s original backstop -- the one the U.K. rejects -- will have to be included in the divorce agreement as an ultimate guarantee. If there are positive signals from the U.K. this week, the European Commission will present a draft to member states, the official said.

Optimism

In private, officials on both sides say that the next time major Brexit news breaks, it is likely to be when they have agreed to the terms of the divorce. May’s officials believe intensive negotiations will deliver the decisive step needed for an agreement within the next few weeks, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Once a deal is done, May will have to get it past her divided Cabinet and also through Parliament, where she faces opposition on all sides.

U.K. Plans Brexit Cabinet But the Deal's Not Yet Done

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