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Absurd Salzburg show proves we’re right to go (Iain Martin, The Times)


September 20 2018, by Iain Martin

May was rebuffed by the EU 27 but must remind herself that their insecure, blundering club has overreached itself.

If you were running a major international organisation facing an extremely difficult set of elections next May, with populists on the rise on the back of voter anger about elite arrogance, would you make your latest summit modest and dial down on the razzamatazz? Or would you put the assembled leaders on the set of The Sound of Music and treat them on the way in like film stars?

The answer is obvious. With its usual tin ear for the menacing mood music, the EU under the Austrian rotating presidency opted for expensive glitz in Salzburg this week, despite its leaders meeting amid an epic mess on migration, with eastern European states in open rebellion, and the second largest financial contributor to the club (Britain) sitting there forlorn like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lonely goatherd.

Theresa May’s position has become even more isolated and lonely, with the EU 27 in the form of Donald Tusk, European Council president, saying yesterday that her proposed Brexit deal — the Chequers compromise keeping the UK aligned with EU rules on goods — “will not work”. But with Britain in its typically shambolic, improvised fashion preparing to say “so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu”, it is easy to overlook just what a mess the EU and our supposedly glorious European home is in.

Ahead of those European elections at the end of May next year, the fear among mainstream politicians is of another populist surge potentially altering the shape of the European parliament and poisoning, from the EU perspective, the atmosphere in Brussels. Underpinning the concern is the remarkable rise of the Visegrad Four — that is Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. They are hardline opponents of migration and in conflict with Brussels. They oppose the EU’s proposal to expand its own border force. They don’t trust it to do the job properly.

When the European parliament moved this month to censure Viktor Orban, the Hungarian leader, over concerns about the erosion of the rule of law in Hungary, the four fought back. The Hungarian government this week launched a campaign calling on Hungarians to “defend Hungary!” and castigating the Green Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini, who had led the criticism of Orban.

This week the Czech prime minister Andrej Babis backed Orban and criticised the EU: “This nonsense just ushers in negative sentiment into the European Union”, Babis said, with the air of someone who knows that the European parliament’s agitation against the Visegrad group only helps him with his domestic audience.

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Theresa May at a photocall with European leaders in Salzburg yesterday. President Macron of France told her to come up with a new plan if she wanted a Brexit deal LISI NIESNER/REUTERS

Theresa May facing Tory revolt as EU rejects Brexit plan (The Times)

Theresa May at a photocall with European leaders in Salzburg yesterday. President Macron of France told her to come up with a new plan if she wanted a Brexit deal. LISI NIESNER/REUTERS

Oliver Wright, Policy Editor | Sam Coates | Bruno Waterfield, Salzburg
September 21 2018

Theresa May is battling to salvage her Brexit strategy and facing a fresh Tory revolt after being humiliated by European leaders yesterday.

In an ambush that blindsided British officials, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, dismissed her Chequers proposals as unworkable after a private meeting of national leaders.

President Macron of France warned the prime minister that she must come up with “new propositions” if she wanted to rescue a deal.

The rejection at the Salzburg meeting triggered a crisis in government, with some cabinet ministers considering attempting to bounce Mrs May into abandoning Chequers within days.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt, international development secretary, and Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, are among those who believe a deal closer to that which Canada has with the EU would be preferable to the current government proposal.

“She needs to drop the language of Chequers,” a cabinet minister said.

A pro-European Conservative MP said that the prime minister’s domestic “credibility” had been badly damaged. “The question is, how on earth does she survive this? It strengthens the hand of the Brexiteers and calls into question her leadership in a way that wasn’t the case 48 hours ago.”

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Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, gave Theresa May a warm welcome to Salzburg SEAN GALLUP/GETTY

Theresa May’s Brexit plan opens rift among EU leaders (The Times, by Oliver Wright, Policy Editor and Bruno Waterfield, Salzburg)

September 20, 2018

European leaders were divided last night before a critical meeting that will determine the future of Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

Some EU countries are pressing for the leaders to engage with British proposals, which they see as a “positive” step towards reaching a deal.

This group, which is led by the Netherlands and Belgium and backed by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, is being challenged by the European Commission and the leaders of France and Germany, who are said to be unwilling to make the concessions demanded by the British.

EU leaders are due to meet without Mrs May this afternoon to discuss their response to her Chequers proposal. Britain is hoping that they will agree to a redrafting of the EU’s negotiating mandate before what is being seen as a make-or-break summit in November. Widening the mandate of the negotiations would allow the EU to soften its position on customs and partial membership of the single market and move closer to Mrs May’s plans.

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A picture of Theresa May TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS

Brexit: Theresa May begins critical 48 hours with plea to EU leaders (The Times)

September 19 2018

Theresa May will appeal to other EU leaders today to ditch “unacceptable demands”, including keeping Northern Ireland in the single market as the price of a Brexit trade deal.

The prime minister is said to regard the next 48 hours as critical in persuading EU leaders to overrule the European Commission on the key issue of the Irish border.

Mrs May will call on them to “evolve” their negotiations over a dinner in Salzburg today. She is expected to agree with Donald Tusk, the European Council president, that goodwill will be needed to avoid a disorderly Brexit.

Her key message will be that London could never accept a “backstop” that resulted in Northern Ireland having different customs arrangements to the rest of the UK.

The UK is not seeking to enjoy all the rights of EU membership without any of the obligations, Mrs May will say, an outcome she acknowledges would also be unacceptable. “What we are proposing is a fair arrangement that will work for the EU’s economy as well as for the UK’s without undermining the single market,” she is expected to say. “This would be balanced by a strong security relationship to keep all our citizens safe from threats at home and abroad.”

Mr Tusk will appeal to other leaders to “take into account” the deep Tory divisions over Mrs May’s Chequers compromise that seeks to avoid a hard border in Ireland by committing Britain to remain aligned to EU rules. Speaking before the informal summit in Austria, Mr Tusk urged leaders to “act responsibly” to “avoid a catastrophe” in the shape of a no-deal Brexit.

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Theresa May and her husband Philip May arriving at church in Sonning yesterday PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS

Boost for May as EU backs Irish border plan (The Times)

High-tech solution raises chances of a deal.

The European Union is secretly preparing to accept a frictionless Irish border after Brexit in a move that raises the prospect of Theresa May striking a deal by the end of the year.

In a concession to British concerns, EU negotiators want to use technological solutions to minimise customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Under the EU plan, goods could be tracked using barcodes on shipping containers under “trusted-trader” schemes administered by registered companies. This would remove the need for new border infrastructure.

A sticking point in the talks to date has been how to avoid the return of a “hard” border in Northern Ireland with new checks or controls amid fears that it could lead to renewed conflict.

The government has refused to accept the EU’s initial proposal that there would, in effect, have to be a border in the Irish Sea, with checks on goods before they left mainland Britain.

The Brussels plan, called the “backstop”, caused outrage among Conservatives and their parliamentary allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, by creating a different constitutional and territorial status for Northern Ireland.

In a development that could help the prime minister to sell her Brexit plans to a sceptical party, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is working on a new “protocol” text outlining a plan to use technology to minimise checks. The proposals are to be circulated to European governments after the Conservative Party conference on October 3.

It is hoped that the draft will help Mrs May to survive long enough to reach an agreement with Brussels this winter. The new protocol will go far further than before in accepting the argument of the British government and many Brexiteers that technology can solve the riddle of how to avoid checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

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Dominic Raab and Michel Barnier EMMANUEL DUNAND

Brexit: EU squashes hopes of Ireland breakthrough in Salzburg (The Times)

EU leaders are expected to offer Theresa May little more than kind words at a summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg on Wednesday, damping hopes of a Brexit breakthrough, despite a looming autumn deadline for agreement on a deal.

The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, said on Friday that EU and UK talks were “closing in on workable solutions to the outstanding issues”, and Michel Barnier, the Brussels negotiator, has said a deal is possible within six to eight weeks.

In reality the talks have made no progress on the most difficult issue — the Northern Ireland “backstop” — in months. EU diplomats said hopes of a breakthrough had been put on ice until after the Tory party conference at the end of this month.

EU diplomats are now so wary about any initiative they propose being twisted and used against May by hardline Brexit MPs that they have decided to hold off on new proposals until she gets through the conference.

Last week rumours swirled in Brussels that EU leaders would agree new instructions for Barnier at the Salzburg summit, leaning on him to push more earnestly for a deal. But within days officials had scotched any hopes of a new mandate.

“This expectation is totally wrong,” said an EU diplomat.

Salzburg, once seen as a possible turning point in the talks, has been reduced to a mere stock-taking exercise. “The less that comes out of this summit, the better for everyone,” said a diplomat.

Instead, tough decisions on the Northern Ireland border have been put off until next month or a possible emergency leaders’ summit in November, bringing the negotiators dangerously close to a hard deadline on a withdrawal agreement.

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EU Flag

A people’s vote is getting closer by the day (Matthew Parris, The Times)

With a second referendum likely to be needed to break the logjam, Remainers need to hammer out the details now.

In Arthur Cash’s biography of that audacious 18th-century agitator for constitutional reform John Wilkes, the author remarks that Wilkes’s lifetime spanned “the American Revolution, which he admired, the French Revolution, which he hated, and the Industrial Revolution, which he did not know was happening”.

Let’s not be caught out this time. Revolution is in the air.

Indulge me, then, in a little crystal-ball-gazing, because it’s time to talk about referendums, who organises them, and how. Those who want a new referendum on Europe must face questions about how, when and by whom this still-anomalous bolt-on to our constitution is to be organised. If we Remainers are scornful of the Brexiteers’ refusal to propose an alternative, we must not make the same mistake ourselves.

This discussion is becoming urgent: another vote on Europe is moving fast from the highly unlikely to the distinctly possible. Let me suggest why.

Only the broad outlines can be discerned of the proposed exit deal that Theresa May’s negotiators and the EU are working on; but these will be a development of the “soft” Brexit proposal agreed at Chequers earlier this year. Hardline Brexiteers hate it. There is little enthusiasm anywhere for the plan. There is, however, a growing suspicion that this may be the only available common ground with EU negotiators. That’s why I’ve been writing since the beginning of August that Theresa May stands a fair chance of getting her proposals through parliament’s “meaningful vote” near the end of this year and I still think that. Staring into the muzzle of what could blast to smithereens a Tory government and very possibly Britain’s March 2019 exit from the EU, it would take nerves of steel (or brains of straw) not to blink first. Many Brexiteers will blink first.

But not all. Steel nerves and straw brains can be found among MPs in the European Research Group. A dozen of these irreconcilables could sink May’s proposals.

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Picture of Emily Thornberry GARETH FULLER/PA

Labour won’t back Chequers Brexit, says Emily Thornberry (The Times)

Labour has been accused of putting “power over principle” after Emily Thornberry all but ruled out backing a Chequers-style Brexit deal.

The shadow foreign secretary savaged Theresa May’s attempts to find a compromise with the EU and said that a workable deal was “just not going to happen”.

She also indicated that Labour would press for a general election rather than a second referendum if parliament rejected a deal this autumn.

In an interview with the Financial Times she said that she “can’t see them coming back with a deal that is going to meet our six tests”. One of Labour’s conditions for a deal with the EU is that it delivers the same benefits to the UK as its present membership.

Joshua Hardie, deputy director of the CBI, urged the party not to put partisan advantage above national interest. “The risk is that Labour will vote against any May deal using ‘exact benefits’ test as excuse,” he tweeted. “Dangerously close to putting power above principle, wouldn’t automatically lead to general election but could lead to no deal.”

Ms Thornberry anticipated Mrs May’s attempts to present MPs with a choice only of backing a Chequers deal or crashing out without an agreement. “Even if they come back in October, November, and say, ‘This flimsy bit of paper is what you’re going to have to agree to, otherwise there’ll be no deal.’ We’re not going to agree to either of those.”

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From passports to car parts, the official no-deal scenario (The Times)

Civil service plans for a hard Brexit reveal the profound impact it will have on all our lives, write Oliver Wright and Henry Zeffman

In dry, impenetrable Whitehallese language the civil service today lays out the implications of a no-deal Brexit on individuals, businesses and government.

Despite their neutral tone, the two dozen or so “no-deal planning notices” do not mask the profound effect such a scenario would have on everyone living in Britain — and arguably the continent as well.

From selling a car, to getting on a plane to Paris, to buying or selling any kind of good or service, life will not be the same in a very profound way.

Anyone wanting to travel into the European Union must have six months left before their passport expires or risk being turned back at the border. In addition the amount of time that British citizens will be allowed to stay in an EU country will be limited to three months.

Currently UK driving licences are valid in the EU. In a no-deal scenario, they would no longer be valid in themselves. Instead, Britons could need to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is an additional document. Depending on the country, Britons who move to the continent for a prolonged period might be required to take a new driving test there.

Mobile roaming
Surcharge-free roaming will no longer be guaranteed in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This might affect the amount of calls that you can make, texts you can send and data you can consume, including applying limits that are less than the amount available in your bundle when you are in the UK. The government is proposing to cap any data charges at £45 a month.

HMRC has written to 145,000 companies that export to the EU but not to the rest of the world. The letter warns them that they will have to comply with all new excise, VAT and customs procedures after Brexit and advises them to “contact customs agents, freight forwarders and other businesses” who have “services to help you to follow customs rules”.

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Picture of Michel Barnier

Brexit deal possible in two months, says Michel Barnier (The Times)

September 11 2018

May orders ministers to win over Tory sceptics

A Brexit deal with Brussels can be struck in less than two months’ time, Europe’s chief negotiator said yesterday, as Theresa May sent her ministers on a final drive to sell Chequers to her divided party.

Amid signs of some optimism on both sides of the Channel, Michel Barnier said that a withdrawal deal was “possible” within six to eight weeks, causing a surge in the pound’s value.

With claims yesterday, however, that up to 80 Tory MPs would be prepared to vote down a deal based on the Chequers agreement, Downing Street is to begin a concerted drive to reduce opposition.

The prime minister has instructed every cabinet minister to tour the country before the Conservative Party conference this month to hammer home the message that Chequers is the “only deal” on the table.

Each minister has been told to visit at least two constituency associations in the next two weeks to make the case for Mrs May’s strategy and counter the campaign led by Boris Johnson to “chuck Chequers”.

Privately, Tory aides working across Whitehall have been briefed by No 10 that Mr Barnier’s position on Chequers has shifted in recent weeks. They have been told to prepare for a vote on a final deal by Christmas, with senior government figures reporting that Tory whips were “very confident” that the vote would pass. However, with Mrs May’s majority standing at 13 and Labour expected to oppose the deal, Brexiteers could scupper the plans.

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ECB president Mario Draghi GETTY IMAGES

ECB piles pressure on City banks over Brexit (The Times)

European Central Bank orders City to disclose plans to move staff abroad

The European Central Bank has ordered financial institutions to reveal details of their plans to shift staff to the Continent after Brexit, ramping up pressure on banks and brokers to explain how they will operate once Britain leaves the bloc.

In a hardening of its stance on multi-national banks with a big presence in the City of London, the ECB has stepped up warnings that a “brass plate” presence in the EU — where business is routed through a member state but senior managers remain in London — will be insufficient for serving continental customers. After Brexit, London-based banks will lose so-called “passporting” rights, which grant access to the EU.

International lenders with a London hub were given a deadline of the end of June to apply for an EU banking licence, with 20 submitting an application. The ECB is said to be using the application process to demand further details on banks’ Brexit plans.

An investment banking source said this included planning for potential failures, how units on the mainland will be capitalised and the number of employees who will be required to move.

The number of bankers leaving the City in the wake of the Brexit vote has so far been lower than some predicted. However, the ECB’s demands for information reflect concerns over the potential for the UK to crash out of the EU without a deal next March. Such an outcome would be likely to accelerate the pace of City job losses. While the bigger investment banks have already made plans for this, it is believed the ECB is particularly targeting smaller banks and broker-dealers, which may have less developed plans.

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Theresa May in Nairobi last week. Her political authority has been further weakened by the response to her Chequers blueprint STEFAN ROUSSEAU/PA

Chequers or Canada‑plus? How Brexit could play out (The Times)

When Theresa May unveiled her Chequers Brexit blueprint eight weeks ago she warned that “pragmatism and compromise” would be required on all sides to deliver a deal. Instead, the plan has fractured her already divided party, dismayed Brussels and weakened her political authority yet further. So with only six months to go before the UK leaves, what are the scenarios for Britain’s departure and how do the Tory tribes of Brexit line up behind them?

Chaotic Brexit
Negotiations fail amid acrimony. Customs checks lead to backlogs disrupting supply chains and hitting food exports. Some flights are grounded and markets panic as EU-wide rules governing financial transactions lose their legal basis.

A ‘no deal’ deal
Negotiations stall with no prospect of resolution and both sides try to cushion “no deal”. Temporary and emergency co-operation is agreed to keep aircraft flying and trade going, especially in food and medicines. The mini-deals are temporary, deferring problems until permanent solutions can be negotiated.

WTO rules and a security deal
The UK agrees to leave under World Trade Organisation rules of trade with a security pact to ensure that Britain’s strategic relationship with the EU remains. Over time talks to negotiate a free-trade agreement begin. EU tariffs are quite low, averaging about 5 per cent, but under WTO rules they would be higher for British exports such as cars. This could drive manufacturers overseas and exporters would face barriers in complying with single market rules.

Transition and ‘Canada-plus’
A withdrawal treaty is agreed and, after a transition period, the government signs a free-trade agreement modelled on the EU’s deal with Canada, removing tariffs on almost all goods and reducing some non-tariff regulatory barriers. The EU’s price of a transition is to separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the British economy by keeping it in a customs union and aligning it with single-market rules. This could require a border in the Irish Sea.

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An aerial view of Chequers. INS NEWS.

Tory tribes lining up for battle over Brexit (The Times)

Tory tribes lining up for battle over Brexit

Brexiteer ultras

This group includes veteran Brexiteers such as the former cabinet minister John Redwood, who see advantages in Britain walking away on World Trade Organisation terms, avoiding a Brexit divorce bill and the need for a backstop position on the Irish border. They say “no deal” fears are overblown and in the long term the UK could make a better trade agreement.

Hard Brexit pragmatists

Led by David Davis, Steve Baker and Jacob Rees-Mogg, and including Priti Patel, the hard Brexit pragmatists form the bulk of Tory Brexiteers. They can live with the withdrawal agreement and divorce bill but draw the line at any future relationship that keeps Britain as a “rule-taker” from Brussels. They are in favour of a simple free-trade agreement alongside co-operation in areas such as research and security but they reject any form of customs deal or part-membership of the single market included in the proposal agreed at Chequers, in July.

Brexit opportunists

Boris Johnson has been careful not to tie himself to other Tory Brexiteers. He has been clear that he rejects Chequers but has yet to outline in specific terms what strategy he thinks should replace it. Some Tory MPs suspect that his Brexit plan is to become leader himself and then decide what to do. The defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, similarly painted as a political opportunist, has also been put in this category.

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Hadrian's Wall

Brexit divisions are getting bigger not smaller (Rachel Sylvester, The Times)

With irreconcilable differences in the beliefs of young and old and men and women, the only solution is a people’s vote.

The Brexit vote was like a bolt of lightning that illuminated the divisions in the country and momentarily jolted the political class out of its torpor. More than two years on, the storm is still raging, the thunder rumbles, but the flood defences have been abandoned and the politicians have gone back to self-indulgent squabbling.

The country is as polarised as ever — if not more so — but the party leaders have turned complacently inwards. Theresa May sees everything through the prism of the Tory Eurosceptics who are the greatest threat to her fragile position in No 10.

Jeremy Corbyn judges Labour’s internal Europe debate in terms of loyalty to his leadership. Boris Johnson cares only about himself, whipping up discontent for the sake of personal ambition.

With only weeks to go before a deal must be agreed with the EU, Britain is facing its greatest political crisis in living memory but there is nobody who seems capable of responding to the scale of the challenge.

Although attention will focus on the parliamentary rows, as MPs return to Westminster after the summer break, what matters most is the complete failure to bridge the social and cultural divides exposed by the EU referendum. There have been multiple economic impact assessments, constitutional settlements and no-deal planning documents but the underlying causes of Brexit have been ignored. New gulfs have emerged that should worry the prime minister more than the tensions between the warring Tory factions.

For the first time a significant gender gap has opened up over Brexit. According to YouGov polling for the People’s Vote campaign, women now back remaining in the EU by a margin of 12 points (56 per cent want to stay in compared with 44 per cent who want to leave) while men are still almost evenly divided (51 to 49 per cent). Although two years ago both men and women backed Brexit by a broadly similar margin, the swing to Remain has been almost twice as great among female voters as male ones.

More than 80 per cent of women believe the whole process of leaving the EU has been a mess, 73 per cent fear that the promises made by politicians on Brexit will be broken, while only 13 per cent think it is likely that Britain will get a good deal. Interestingly for Labour, the shift has been greatest among working-class women under 45. Almost two thirds of this critical group of voters now want to stay in the EU, compared with just over half at the time of the referendum.

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A grassroots campaign of Tory MPs wants to rip up the deal proposed by the prime minister at Chequers in July EPA

Tory Brexit rebels pledge to wreck Theresa May’s Chequers plan (The Times)

20 MPs take public stand against plan

Theresa May’s Brexit plan was hanging by a thread last night as 20 Conservative MPs made a joint public commitment to scupper her proposals.

The rebels, including the former ministers Priti Patel and Iain Duncan Smith, joined the Stand Up 4 Brexit group, a grassroots campaign that commits supporters to ripping up the EU negotiations to date.

After the disastrous general election last year, Mrs May is vulnerable if more than seven Tory MPs decide to oppose her. Brexiteers say that they have 60 or more MPs on their side but most are unwilling yet to go public.

The Stand Up 4 Brexit signatories, who also include Conor Burns, a leading ally of Boris Johnson, have pledged to fight plans to keep EU rules on British goods, the Northern Ireland “backstop” plan and free movement, which allows EU citizens to collect benefits. This would, in effect, force Mrs May back to the drawing board to restart negotiations, which in turn would increase the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.

David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, also promised yesterday to vote against Mrs May’s plan, describing it as “actually almost worse than being in”. Brexiteers say they will put forward alternative proposals within weeks.

Mr Davis also warned that MPs should not use the scrapping of Mrs May’s plans as a way to remove her as leader. His comments came after reports that the political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby was secretly attempting to derail her Brexit strategy and install Mr Johnson in No 10. Mr Davis told The Times: “Let me be absolutely clear. It is absolutely possible to dump Chequers without changing leader — and that’s the best way to do it. Anyone who conflates getting rid of Chequers with changing the leadership is confusing their aims.”

The deal that the prime minister hopes to strike, outlined at Chequers in July, would keep Britain in a single market for goods and promises a bespoke customs relationship with the European Union.

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Michel Barnier met Dominic Raab, the UK Brexit secretary, in Brussels EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

‘No backstop, no agreement’: border still divides Brexit negotiators (The Times)

The Irish border question could still scupper a Brexit deal, the EU’s chief negotiator warned after talks with his British counterpart yesterday.

Michel Barnier said that urgent work was needed to find a solution following a meeting with Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, in Brussels. He said the UK had to provide data on the nature, location and methods of checks that would be needed on the border after Brexit.

Referring to the UK’s commitment to ensure a frictionless Irish border after Brexit, Mr Barnier said: “This backstop is critical to conclude these negotiations because without a backstop there is no agreement.” The terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union, set for March 29 next year, must be forged in principle by November at the latest, Mr Barnier said. He said it was possible to get an agreement in time for a meeting of all the EU leaders in Brussels on October 18-19.

Mr Raab said he was “stubbornly optimistic” that a deal could be reached. Simon Coveney, the tánaiste and foreign minister, tweeted in response: “So am I.”

Mr Raab said: “All in all I think the contours of an agreement and a deal on the withdrawal agreement are becoming clearer and clearer, which is a positive.

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