May Secures Key EU Brexit Concessions on Customs, Times Says

Rupa Haq MP Trevor Phillips Ayesha Hazarika Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala at the Queen Mary panel. Credit Jonathan Cole

The British government's chief legal adviser has been quietly added as a 12th member of the Cabinet sub-committee created to oversee London's Brexit negotiations with Brussels after ministers insisted they would not sign off on a deal without his advice.

As the so-called Brexit deadline approaches, more than 70 business leaders have signed a letter to the Sunday Times today, calling for a public vote on Britain's Brexit deal, warning a destructive hard Brexit would damage the British economy.

Theresa May called the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar this morning to discuss how the backstop solution to the Northern Ireland border would work.

This could give mainland Britain some scope to set trade rules while keeping the province of Northern Ireland aligned with the EU.

The rapid pace of the negotiations requires the British government to adopt a "war cabinet" approach.

May later reiterated to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that she believed a withdrawal accord was 95% complete, and was "confident" of a deal on the Northern Irish backstop.

It comes amid reports of an imminent deal - which Downing Street has described as "speculation".

With just five months to go until it exits the EU, Britain's divorce talks are at an impasse, fuelling huge uncertainty among businesses and causing the value of sterling to see-saw on any news about a possible breakthrough in the talks.

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'The Irish stance is still the same and clear to say that an emergency time-bound plan or one that could be unilaterally completed by the United Kingdom will never be agreed upon by the country or the European Union, ' said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Twitter.

Now, top European Union bureaucrats are indicating they are prepared to offer the Prime Minister an "independent mechanism" by which Britain could trigger a "review" on the customs arrangement and move towards ending them.

May will try to garner support from her cabinet on Tuesday (6 November) when it comes to the so-called backstop, which United Kingdom government sources say is now the only outstanding unresolved issue.

A spokesman for Ireland's tanaiste Simon Coveney said: "The UK has given written commitments last December and March that the Withdrawal Agreement will include a legal guarantee of no return to a hard border in Ireland in any circumstance".

Negotiators are trying to find an emergency Irish border fix that would satisfy Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party and May's divided Conservative Party.

The Sunday Times report said preparations for a final Brexit deal were "far more advanced than previously disclosed" and that May's agreement would satisfy both remain-voting Tories and the hardline Eurosceptics within her party.

"So, we think there's a deal to be had if they recognise that the deal is unacceptable to Parliament, I think that opens up a vista of the opportunity of the real negotiations".

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