Downing Street has played down expectations of agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU at a crunch summit next week, warning that “big issues” remain to be resolved. Theresa May’s official spokesman said further concessions were needed from the EU side, and warned that no withdrawal agreement could be sealed without a “precise” declaration about the post-Brexit relationship.
The comments appeared to pour cold water on upbeat assessments on the prospects of a deal made by senior EU figures over recent days. Just over a week remains before the October 18 summit in Brussels which was initially penciled in as the deadline for agreement on withdrawal.
But Downing Street would say only that the UK was working for a deal “this autumn”, fuelling speculation that a special summit in November will be needed to hammer out agreement on issues including the status of the Irish border.
Technical talks are continuing at official level in Brussels this week, but no visit by Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has been announced, and Downing Street would say only that new proposals on the border issue would be released “in due course”.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman told a Westminster media briefing: “We have always said that we are working hard for a deal this autumn and that continues at pace. “It’s worth me pointing out that there is a difference between people talking optimistically about a deal and a deal, including both a withdrawal agreement and a future framework, actually being agreed.
“There remain big issues to work through and, as the PM has said, this will require movement on the EU side. There can be no withdrawal agreement without a precise future framework.”
The spokesman said the “meaningful vote” promised to MPs would cover not only the withdrawal agreement but also the political declaration on future relations.
Hopes that a withdrawal deal can be completed within weeks were fuelled this weekend by comments from Ireland’s deputy prime minister Simon Coveney, who insisted that both sides were 90% there. Mr Coveney’s assessment was substantially more optimistic than the 75%-80% figure previously used by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.