Brexit silence can’t hide hints of ‘deal’


A cloak of secrecy surrounds the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Neither side has reported in any detail what’s going on behind closed doors in Brussels since Prime Minister Theresa May updated Parliament on October 22. But the lack of public comment doesn’t mean nothing’s happening.
British and European negotiators are locked away trying to break the deadlock and with just five months left before the UK is due to leave, there are signs that a deal is being done away from the public gaze.
In private, officials on both sides say the next time major Brexit news breaks is likely to be when they have agreed to the terms of the divorce. And that could be sooner than many observers think.
In London, Prime Minister Theresa May’s officials believe intensive negotiations will deliver the decisive step needed for an agreement within the next few weeks, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The key sticking point remains how to avoid customs checks taking place at the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, without putting up new barriers between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.
Even on this most vexed of all issues, the so-called Irish border backstop, there’s evidence of progress.
The Financial Times reported that the EU is ready to make a fresh compromise offer on how the backstop should be structured. The bloc would agree to May’s call for a UK-wide customs deal with the EU as a way to avoid goods checks either between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, or at the frontier with the Republic of Ireland. Crucially, this would be a legally binding commitment under the terms of the separation treaty, the paper reported.
The UK and the EU are “certainly very close to resolving” the border issue, May’s de facto deputy David Lidington said during a visit to Dublin on Friday. He said he “expects and hopes” for a deal in the coming weeks. Lidington said he wouldn’t predict the timing of a deal but pointed out that a Cabinet meeting could be called at any time.
PM May’s office also sounded positive.

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