EU ministers to get Brexit update after ‘no time’ for deal warning before extension deadline

Michel Barnier, chief negotiator for the preparation and conduct of the negotiations with the United Kingdom under article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) gives a press conference at the European Commission on December 6, 2016, in Brussels. / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND        (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will update EU ministers on the state of negotiations today, following a warning that there may not be time for a deal before this week’s deadline.

On Monday senior EU figures suggested talks to broker an agreement would not be finished before a major summit on Thursday and Friday this week, forcing Boris Johnson to ask for a delay to Brexit.

That has been tipped as the last point a deal can be signed off before the Saturday 19 October deadline MPs gave the prime minister to secure one.

Instead, the EU figures suggested talks could go down to the wire at an emergency summit just before Brexit day on Halloween.

Antti Rinne, the Finnish prime minister, said at a news conference that “there is no time in a practical or legal way to find an agreement” before this week’s showdown in Brussels.

“We need more time,” he added.

Josep Borrell, Spain’s foreign minister, said that “in Europe, we always take decisions on the edge of the precipice – on the edge of the cliff”.

He continued: “Even when the last minute comes, then we stop the watch and say that we need technically more time to fulfil all the requirements, all the last minute requirements.”

While Irish foreign minister and deputy prime minister Simon Coveney admitted it was “too early to say if it is possible to get a breakthrough this week or whether it will move into next week”.

If Mr Johnson returns for the first Saturday sitting of parliament since the Falklands War without a deal, by law he is obliged to ask the EU to delay Brexit to avoid a no-deal divorce.

Government sources confirmed to Sky News cabinet tomorrow has been postponed – the Telegraph reports because Mr Johnson is worried about leaks.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay will head to Luxembourg on Wednesday, as technical continue in earnest between UK and EU negotiators to try to hammer out a deal before the EU28 leaders descend on Brussels.

If they do manage to secure one, Mr Johnson will still need to win over a majority of MPs in parliament – something his predecessor as prime minister Theresa May failed to do.

All eyes will be on the government’s confidence-and-supply partners, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to see how they react to whatever is cooked up across the Channel.

Its leaders, Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds, met Mr Johnson in Downing Street for talks lasting 90 minutes last night but were silent when asked if they supported his proposals.

The key sticking point is what is known as the “Irish backstop” – an insurance mechanism to prevent a hard border reforming on the island of Ireland regardless of the future EU/UK trade relationship.

Mr Johnson wants to get rid of it – but Brussels insists the integrity of its free-flowing goods area and regulatory standards must be upheld.

The British proposal is reportedly to keep Northern Ireland in the UK’s customs territory but track goods entering it from Great Britain and then working out which tariff needs to be paid depending on where they end up.

But the scheme has reportedly raised doubts in Europe.