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Boris Johnson is closing in on a possible Brexit deal this evening.
Following a day of intense negotiations, sources in both Brussels and London said the details of a possible deal were ‘within sight’.
However, with talks set to go to the wire, both sides cautioned that negotiations could still stall or even collapse ahead of tomorrow’s crunch EU summit in Brussels.
A Whitehall insider said: ‘There is progress, but one mis-step and it can all turn to dust.’
An EU official involved in the talks said the bloc was ‘very confident’ a deal would be struck overnight. But a senior French official urged ‘extreme prudence’ about predicting a deal would be done.
In a further boost for Mr Johnson, a group of so-called Spartan MPs – Brexiteers who rejected Theresa May’s deal three times – emerged from talks at No10 indicating that they would vote for the latest proposals.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker, chairman of the European Research Group of MPs, said: ‘I am optimistic that it is possible to reach a tolerable deal I am able to vote for.’
A spokesman for 10 Downing Street said: 'We're working hard. The talks remain constructive - but we know time constraints'
Michel Barnier said: 'Agreement will be difficult but IS possible this week'. While Leo Varadkar said: 'PM said he's confident he could get deal through Commons'
However, senior figures in both the EU and Westminster warned that Mr Johnson will be forced to seek another Brexit delay even if a deal is done this week – breaking his ‘do or die’ pledge to leave by October 31.
In an ominous development, the DUP said it was not yet prepared to back Mr Johnson’s proposals. After leader Arlene Foster and deputy Nigel Dodds held a 90-minute meeting in Downing Street tonight, a party spokesman said: ‘It would be fair to indicate gaps remain and further work is required.’
Mrs Foster said earlier she would ‘do what’s best for the Union’.
The DUP is insisting that Northern Ireland must leave the EU together with the rest of the UK.
Asked whether she trusted Mr Johnson to protect Northern Ireland’s interests, Mrs Foster said: ‘I don’t trust anyone else in these negotiations. I trust myself.’
Tonight’s apparent breakthrough came after the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier set a midnight deadline for talks to conclude so details of any agreement could be drawn up for tomorrow’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels. He said: ‘Even if the agreement will be difficult, more and more difficult to be frank, it is still possible.’
Here is how the coming weeks could pan out:
Today: Michel Barnier and Steve Barclay meet other EU ministers in Luxembourg. Technical talks continue in Brussels.
Tomorrow: The final deadline for having an agreement place for sign-off by EU leaders.
Thursday-Friday: A crunch EU summit in Brussels. Any deal could be signed off by leaders here. If the talks have broken down, expect Boris Johnson to either boycott the event, or stage a dramatic walkout.
Saturday: Parliament will sit on Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War.
If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal. Mr Johnson is likely to force a vote to make MPs 'own' any delay, having said he would rather 'die in a ditch' than accept one.
If there is a deal in place, there will be a make-or-break vote on whether to back it. If passed by the Commons, the government will start rushing legislation through Parliament immediately.
Monday: Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will let Mr Johnson trigger an election after an extension has been secured.
This would probably be the first day when a motion can be brought to a vote under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, or a confidence vote can be held.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU, which Mr Johnson has previously described as 'do or die'.
A Whitehall source said negotiations would go to the wire, adding: ‘The big moments in the EU have all been done at one minute to midnight. There is no expectation this will be any different.’
Tonight, Mr Johnson’s chief negotiator David Frost remained locked in talks inside the EU Commission’s headquarters to reach the midnight deadline. The British team was still pushing for a ‘hybrid’ customs arrangement that would allow the UK to claim Northern Ireland was leaving the EU’s customs jurisdiction under the terms of the Irish backstop designed to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
Brussels sources said the UK had offered major concessions by moving closer to the EU demand for Northern Ireland to stay in the bloc’s customs union and creating a customs border in the Irish Sea.
But there was irritation in Downing Street tonight about efforts by the EU to ‘bounce’ Mr Johnson into further concessions by suggesting a deal was all but done. ‘We have made good progress, but there is still a way to go, a source said. ‘It’s going to go through the night – and it could all still fall apart.’
If a deal is struck, MPs could sit on Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War to approve it.
No10 said Parliament would be asked to work ‘around the clock’ for an October 31 Brexit.
If a deal is not struck, Mr Johnson faces a clash with Parliament and the courts over a controversial law requiring him to seek a Brexit delay until the end of January.
Even if there is an agreement, former justice secretary David Gauke said pro-Remain MPs would insist on another delay to ensure any deal gets full parliamentary scrutiny.
Mr Gauke, one of 21 former Tory rebels Mr Johnson needs to win back, said he and his colleagues would only back a deal if Mr Johnson agreed to ask for more time.
‘If he gets a deal I would be supportive,’ he said. ‘But I wouldn’t want to be in a position where we vote for a deal on Saturday, something then goes wrong in the next 12 days and we crash out without a deal on October 31.’
Stephen Kinnock, one of the Labour moderates whose votes are being targeted by No10, also said there would ‘need to be an extension’ even if a deal is struck this week to push through the complex divorce legislation.
Arlene Foster said: 'We need to stick to our principles and get deal that respects UK integrity'
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said: 'We need to give talks space - but deal is very possible'
German officials and French President Emmanuel Macron warned that a delay may be needed to iron out details of Mr Johnson’s complex proposal for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
One senior EU source said: ‘Without a deal this week, Britain will need an extension. With a deal this week, Britain will need an extension.’
Irish premier Leo Varadkar suggested Mr Johnson will only be offered an agreement in principle at the summit.
He said: ‘Indications are that we are making progress. But whether we’ll be able to conclude a revised Withdrawal Agreement, which is an international treaty, for the summit, that’s unclear.’
Amid a frantic last push for an agreement, the Pound was near its peak since the summer against the US dollar, at over 1.28
The Pound was hovering at its highest levels for months this afternoon amid rising optimism over a Brexit deal.
Amid a frantic last push for an agreement, sterling was near its peak since the summer against the US dollar, at over 1.28 at 3pm.
Meanwhile, it was above 1.16 versus the euro - rates not seen since May.
Michel Barnier and Steve Barclay fuelled hopes that a Brexit deal is close this morning as they insisted it is 'very possible' to seal a package for a crunch EU summit this week.
Bitter wrangling between Britain and the bloc over whether a deal is possible came after both sides fueled hopes of a breakthrough.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay made a surprise dash to Luxembourg for the meeting of ministers this morning, saying a deal was 'very possible'.
Mr Johnson postponed a Cabinet meeting amid a final push - after DUP leader Arlene Foster came to Downing Street for 90 minutes of talks on Monday night.
The PM also had a 'constructive' 20-minute call with Mr Macron.
An aide to the French president told reporters there was 'positive momentum' behind the talks. He is said to have told Mr Johnson he was not keen on a delay, but raised the prospect of a 'technical' extension, potentially a few more weeks to finalise a deal.
That would be ferociously resisted by Mr Johnson as a breach of his 'do or die' vow, but could be unavoidable as MPs will force him to accept it.
The Pound spiked on signs that the two sides are homing in on an agreement, with the UK putting put forward a new legal text designed to bridge the gap on customs checks.
Earlier, Mr Barnier insisted completing the 'difficult' process was 'possible' this week.
Arriving to brief EU ministers in Luxembourg, he said: 'Reaching an agreement is still possible. Obviously, any agreement must work for all, the whole of the UK and the whole of the EU.
'Let me add also that it is high time to turn good intentions in a legal text.'
Brexit Secretary Mr Barclay appealed for 'space', adding: 'Detailed conversations are under way and a deal is still very possible.'
Mr Johnson was meeting Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg in Downing Street today
However, Mr Barnier reportedly told ministers at a private meeting that time is short and the blueprint is not yet ready