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 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 18 October summit in Brussels which was initially pencilled 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: “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.
His insistence that the terms of the declaration must be “precise” appear designed to allay the concerns of some MPs that EU leaders may agree only a vague form of words containing no real commitments about the future relationship.
In this so-called “blind Brexit” scenario, MPs fear that they may be asked to approve the withdrawal agreement, including a £39 billion financial settlement by the UK, as well as guaranteed rights for citizens living overseas and a new arrangement for the Irish border, without having any clear idea of future EU-UK relations in areas like trade and security.
Reports suggest that Mrs May hopes to break the deadlock over the Irish border by keeping the EU’s present customs arrangements beyond when the transition period is due to end in December 2020.
Anti-EU Tory MPs have made it clear to the PM that this option could last no longer than the slated general election in 2022. The PM’s spokesman said that Mrs May had always made clear that any joint customs arrangements with the EU would be “temporary”, and stressed that this remained the case.