Former minister urges May to change course on Brexit

Theresa May

Theresa May

European Union (EU) flags fly outside the Berlaymont building, which houses the headquarters of the European Commission, in Brussels, Belgium.

The UK can still make progress in Brexit talks despite serious unresolved issues, Downing Street has said.

Leaders had been due to decide on Wednesday whether enough progress had been made for them to agree to hold another summit, pencilled in for November 17-18, at which both the treaty on an orderly British withdrawal and a vaguer document setting out future trade relations could be inked in.

"Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open, including the backstop for IE/NI to avoid a hard border", Barnier tweeted after his talks with Raab.

Labour is pressing the government to give MPs the chance to debate Theresa May's plans for the Irish border backstop before she flies to a crunch summit with European Union leaders this week.

That timetable - which markets have started to price in - has been thrown off and there's likely to be more talk of how to prepare for a chaotic and acrimonious no-deal split.

The former foreign secretary said: "The fatal error was not to challenge the EU's position that the only way of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland - an objective we all share - is for Northern Ireland to have the same regulations for trade as Ireland and the rest of the EU".

May set out in June proposals for a "temporary customs arrangement" to ensure that the border remains open in the case that no broader EU/UK trade agreement has been finalised.

However, Brexiteers like Patel and Davis suspect this could turn into a permanent situation, restricting Britain's freedom to strike future trade deals with other countries.

The prime minister is rumoured to be making a statement later on Friday to clarify her position. A breakdown in relations in October could potentially help the premier at home by showing she had stood her ground. May is probably going to have to count on opposition votes, and will need to present it as the only viable alternative to chaos.

Time is running out to reach a deal before the end of March next year, at which point the United Kingdom will crash out of the European Union without any contingency plans about how to do so. "That wouldn't be leaving the European Union". Yet the two sides remain far apart on key points.

"With several big issues still to resolve, including the Northern Ireland backstop, it was jointly agreed that face-to-face talks were necessary" ahead of the summit, Raab's department had said.

Mrs May's hopes of getting a Brexit deal through Parliament could depend on the actions of Labour MPs, with former minister Caroline Flint telling Sky she would back a "reasonable" deal. That's reduced her room for maneuver. "This week the authority of our constitution is on the line", writes Mr Davis, who stepped down from the UK Cabinet in July due to his opposition to Ms May's Brexit strategy agreed by the rest of the Cabinet at her country residence of Chequers.

The EU's version, which would see just Northern Ireland remain aligned with Brussels' rules, has been called unacceptable by Mrs May and her Democratic Unionist allies.

Prime Minister Theresa May is to travel to Brussels on Wednesday for the start of the summit, when both sides want to sign off on a draft withdrawal agreement to set out the terms for Britain's divorce from the EU.

"This is one of the most fundamental decisions that government has taken in modern times".

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