- The UK’s chief Brexit negotiator privately told ministers there are only “six weeks left” of negotiating time before both sides are required to sign a final Brexit deal, according to a report.
- One minister present at the meeting was left with the impression that “time is running out.”
- Warning came as ministers were briefed ahead of crucial crunch talks with Theresa May next week – where she is expected to try and pave the way to a softer Brexit.
LONDON – The government’s chief Brexit negotiator made a startling point to ministers this week. Factoring in Brussels summer holidays, there are only “six weeks left” of negotiating time before the October summit at which the final Brexit deal is supposed to be agreed, he reportedly told them.
Olly Robbins, the UK official leading negotiations, delivered the news as part of a slideshow given to ministers who aren’t in May’s core team ahead of crucial crunch talks next week, according to Channel 4 News.
The lack of time is all the more striking given how little progress the UK has made on crucial issues in recent months. The UK has still not even signed the Withdrawal Agreement, with sticking points like the Irish border still no closer to resolution, and failure to do so would mean Britain leaves without a deal in March 2019.
One minister present at the meeting was left with the impression that “time is running out,” Channel 4 reported.
A softer Brexit?
Ministers were also reportedly left with the impression that May is gearing up to move towards a softer Brexit when she meets her full Cabinet on Friday next week to discuss the long-awaited Brexit white paper. They were told that Robbins and his team would present them with “options” for the regulation of goods after Brexit, but would not necessarily be asked to choose between those options.
Robbins appears to be seeking a licence from ministers to pursue a range of approaches for goods, ranging from a “low-access, high-sovereignty” model to a Norway-style arrangement where Britain essentially retains one aspect of single market membership.
Ministers suspect that licence would push Britain towards a softer Brexit approach because the EU27 would be much more receptive to a Norway-style approach than to its harder alternatives.
Theresa May’s team will meet her EU counterparts at the European Council summit in Brussels today, but a lack of progress on key issues such as the Irish border means Brexit has been booted down the agenda, with October looking like a more realistic date for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.
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