Brexit deal could be 48 hours away, says PM May’s de facto deputy
- But David Lidington admitted it is ‘not at all definite’ as UK and EU still arguing about what to do with the Irish border
A Brexit deal could still be reached within the next 48 hours in time to trigger an emergency November summit, the prime minister’s de facto deputy has said, while warning progress is “not at all definite”.
David Lidington said negotiators had worked late into the night and an agreement was “almost within touching distance”, but there was still disagreement over the main point of contention – an exit mechanism for the Irish “backstop” proposal.
Cabinet Brexiters have insisted the UK must have the power to unilaterally leave the “temporary” customs arrangement that has been negotiated as a means of avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
Lidington said the backstop agreement was one of the “outstanding issues that is being negotiated in the endgame” and it “clearly has to be something that is temporary and not indefinite”.
He said there could be an agreement within the next two days, but negotiators were still a distance apart. “Still possible, but not at all definite I think pretty much sums it up,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We are not quite there yet. This was always going to be an extremely difficult, extremely complex negotiation, but we are almost within touching distance now.
“But, as the PM has said, it can’t be a deal at any price. It has got to be one that works in terms of feeling we can deliver on the referendum result, and that is why there is a measure of caution.”
Lidington did not dispute that both sides believed the end of Wednesday was the final moment to get a November meeting of the European council agreed, and said the deadline was important.
Should progress not be reached, the final agreement is likely to be pushed back to the scheduled council summit on 13 and 14 December.
On Monday night, Theresa May admitted significant issues remained. Cabinet ministers will not discuss Brexit on Tuesday, barring an update on no-deal preparations.
Addressing the lord mayor’s banquet at Guildhall in London on Monday night, May said: “We are working extremely hard, through the night, to make progress on the remaining issues in the withdrawal agreement, which are significant.
“Both sides want to reach an agreement, but what we are negotiating is immensely difficult.”