Theresa May has warned the UK will not accept a Brexit deal “at any cost” as pressure rises to break the deadlock before the end of November.
At a three-hour cabinet meeting, ministers were told there would be no time for the UK and European parliaments to vote on a deal if the last remaining stumbling blocks aren’t resolved in the coming weeks.
However, in a bid to raise the pressure on the EU and on Brexiteers in her own party, the Prime Minister said she would not accept an arrangement that keeps the UK under “backstop” measures to prevent a hard border in Ireland “indefinitely”.
Hopes of a special Brexit summit to finalise the withdrawal agreement in November appear to be receding as the Irish border continues to stand in the way of a deal.
A special summit later in the month would be dependent on EU negotiator Michel Barnier declaring that “decisive progress” has been made in talks.
On Monday, the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar made clear he would not accept an arrangement which gave the UK unilateral powers to ditch a customs union, intended to keep trade flowing freely over Ireland’s land border, without the agreement of Brussels.
Eurosceptic Tories including the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab are understood to have pushed for a unilateral break clause with a notice period of as little as three months, but ministers were warned by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox yesterday that would risk a no-deal Brexit. Mr Raab and Mr Cox will now draw up proposals for a “review mechanism”.
Mr Michel Barnier said yesterday that Brussels was “willing to consider improvements to the backstop” but insisted that “this backstop must be a genuine backstop.
“Backstop means backstop. And a backstop cannot have a time-limit”.
Mrs May assured ministers there would be another Cabinet before any deal is done, but her official spokesman said no extra meeting has been scheduled ahead of the regular gathering next Tuesday.
Any agreement will depend on an “acceptable” framework for future relations on trade and security, to be covered in a separate political declaration, Downing Street said. “Don’t be under any illusion, there remains a significant amount of work to do,” the spokesman told reporters.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said Dublin’s stance was making a no-deal Brexit likely.
“Looks like we’re heading for no deal,” he tweeted. “Such an outcome will have serious consequences for economy of Irish Republic. In addition, UK won’t have to pay a penny more to EU.”