Negotiations between the UK and the EU are taking part at the EU Commission in Brussels, following a not so good telephone exchange between Boris and Merkel where reaching a deal before the October deadline looked impossible to achieve. Then came the face-to-face meeting between Boris Johnson and the Irish PM Leo Varadkar. A joint statement said the two men could still “see a pathway to a possible deal”. But they highlighted two major challenges: customs and consent. First and foremost, the UK now insists the backstop – the legal guarantee to avoid the return of a hard border in Ireland – has to go. The UK plan to replace it would leave Northern Ireland inside the EU single market for all agricultural and industrial goods but outside the EU customs union.
EU negotiators also appreciate the fact the UK has moved on the issue of regulations and has now proposed setting up a single zone, following EU rules, on the island of Ireland. That means checks on goods – especially food and agricultural produce – would have to take place within the UK (between Britain and Northern Ireland) instead.
The rest of the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the EU and Theresa May’s government – including the financial settlement and the transition period, things heavily criticised in the past by Boris Johnson – would remain in place.
On Monday 14th October the Queen Speech will centre on Brexit, followed by a summit of European leaders due to take place next 17th and 18th October, which is seen as the last chance to agree a deal before 31 October – the date the UK is due to leave the EU.