- Theresa May’s Cabinet met on Tuesday morning to discuss Brexit.
- Downing Street sources say there has been no breakthrough yet but believe a Brexit deal could still be struck this week.
- However, time is running out to meet the deadline for a November EU summit.
- The EU has set a deadline for the end of play on Wednesday for May to agree on a deal.
LONDON – Is Theresa May about to agree a Brexit deal?
There are whispers in Westminster and Brussels this evening that a deal could be on, with the main stumbling-block to an agreement – the Northern Ireland “backstop” now largely agreed by EU negotiators, according to reports.
It marks a turnaround from Monday, when Downing Street sources Business Insider spoke to were downbeat, suggesting that a deal was unlikely to be done in time for the EU’s deadline to organise a November Brexit summit.
“I wouldn’t go getting your hopes up,” one senior government source told BI after a weekend of negotiations failed to get a breakthrough.
However, after two long days of negotiations on Sunday and Monday, which extended into the early hours of the morning, there is some optimism in Downing Street that a deal could be brokered within the next 24 hours.
“There won’t be a deal today but we’re pushing hard to get it over the line tomorrow,” a Whitehall source told BI.
If there is a deal then it must be done by the end of play on Wednesday in order to meet the deadline for a November Brexit summit. Downing Street believes that significant progress has been made over the past 48 hours towards meeting that deadline.
Failure to meet that deadline would mean a deal cannot be finalised until December. This would leave parliaments in Westminster and Brussels with precious little time to scrutinise it, and May’s government with no choice but to begin no-deal preparation.
A stage-managed deal?
So is this all, as the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested this week, mere “stage management” for a deal that has actually been agreed for some time?
Theresa May’s spokesman this morning strongly denied this, saying there still remained a “small number of outstanding issues” between the two sides in Brussels.
However, EU sources suggest that they have moved all they can and that it is now for May to either accept the deal on the table or not.
“It’s all down to the UK side now,” one EU commission source told BI last week. “We’ve done all we can.”
If a deal really is to be brokered this week then the suspicion has to be that the prime minister is deliberately taking it down to the wire in order to force her Cabinet into agreement.
So what happens next?
Downing Street sources insist that the Cabinet will meet again before any deal can be brokered with the EU. That means that an emergency meeting would have to be called on Wednesday, before any deal can be done.
If you see Cabinet ministers strolling into Downing Street en masse tomorrow morning then you will know a deal is on.
So will May get ministers on side?
The experience from previous such crunch points in this process is that, despite threats to the contrary, it is likely that the majority of ministers will ultimately wave the deal through, give or take a couple of potential resignations.
However, the real challenge will then become whether May can get that deal through parliament.
All the signs at the moment suggest that the prime minister simply doesn’t have the numbers. With sizeable numbers of both Conservative Leavers and Remainers, Labour Brexiteers, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party, all threatening to vote down her plans, any deal she secures from Brussels could quickly prove to be worthless once it hits the voting lobbies in the House of Commons.
And if that happens then all bets are off. Within days we could either see the end of May’s premiership, a possible general election, or even a second Brexit referendum.