Brexit deal likely to slip to December, says EU commissioner

Ireland’s EU Commissioner has said a summit to finalise a Brexit deal is now unlikely to be held until December, pointing to further slipping in the negotiating timetable.

Phil Hogan said if he was “a betting person” he would wager that there would be no deal this month.

But his comments come amid reports in an Austrian newspaper suggesting a deal could be imminent.

“I think if we don’t get proposals in the next few days it’s unlikely we’ll have a deal in November, so the pressure is on the UK to make those proposals,” Mr Hogan, the EU’s agriculture chief, told Irish public broadcaster RTE.

“But I would say if I was a betting person we would have a December Council to discuss the final outcome. But hopefully we can do a deal.”

At a meeting in October EU leaders decided to hold off planning a previously suggested November summit amid a lack of progress on the Irish border issue.

EU officials say the ball is now in the UK’s court and that Theresa May’s Cabinet needs to agree to a backstop to prevent a hard border in Ireland or come up with better proposals. 

Discussions held at Cabinet earlier in the week were inconclusive, Downing Street said.

Der Standard, an Austrian newspaper, however on Thursday afternoon cited EU sources suggesting a deal was now in the works and leaders were preparing for a summit in late November, possibly on the 25th day of the month.

The claims were allegedly made by officials in Helsinki, where a summit of centre-right EU leaders from the bloc’s ruling party are taking place. Austria is chairing the European Council so Austrian officials may be better-placed than others to know how preparations are going.

Mr Hogan, who predicted the deal would be pushed back to December, was speaking from the same summit, however. 

EU officials have formally gone into a communications “tunnel”, giving few definitive clues about how talks are going in order to help along negotiations.

Phil Hogan is Ireland’s EU Commissioner (FILE) (Reuters)

Speaking at the start of the week Michel Barnier the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said a deal on the Irish border was not “close”. On Thursday he re-iterated that he would stick with the task of negotiating until it was complete.

Even if a deal is struck between negotiators in Brussels Theresa May will still have to get it through the House of Commons – a difficult task given she lacks a majority. 

Labour looks increasingly likely to vote against her deal. Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit chief, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday that the negotiated outline of the future relationship produced by the PM needed to be detailed and that is party would not back a “blind Brexit”.

Slippages in the negotiating timetable, which was supposed to be concluded in October, mean that serious negotiations about the future relationship have barely begun, however – with Ms May’s so-called ‘Chequers’ proposal having been roundly rejected by EU leaders.

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