Brexit deal possible by early November, EU negotiator says

The pound Sterling jumped to a six-week high after the EU's chief Brexit negotiator said on Monday he believes it is possible to reach an agreement with the UK by November

The EU’s chief negotiator says a Brexit deal with the UK is possible by early November.

Michael Barnier said there could be an accord within six to eight weeks if both sides are “realistic”.

He told a conference in Slovenia on Monday: “If we are realistic, I want to reach an agreement on the first stage of the negotiation, which is the Brexit treaty, within six or eight weeks.”

“The treaty is clear, we have two years to reach an agreement before they leave… in March 2019,” he said.

“That means that taking into account the time necessary for the ratification process in the House of Commons on one side, the European Parliament and the Council on the other side, we must reach an agreement before the beginning of November. I think it is possible.”

Barnier’s comments had a positive effect on the markets, with the pound jumping to a six-week high. Sterling was up nearly 1% versus the dollar at 1.302 and gained 0.4% against the euro to end the session on 1.122.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has defended Theresa May’s Brexit blueprint after a warning that continuing with it could cause a “catastrophic split” in the Conservative Party.

Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said he was “gravely concerned” about a potential schism in Tory ranks if the prime minister did not change direction.

Baker, a leading figure in the pro-Brexit Tory European Research Group, said the party’s annual conference in Birmingham, starting on September 30, could prove a decisive moment as May is forced to acknowledge the scale of grassroots opposition to her proposals.

Eight weeks for remaining issues of withdrawal

“If we come out of conference with her hoping to get Chequers through on the back of Labour votes, I think the EU negotiators would probably understand that if that were done, the Tory party would suffer the catastrophic split which thus far we have managed to avoid,” he told the Press Association.

But Number 10 said critics of the plan had yet to come forward with a credible alternative which would avoid the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“Chequers is the only plan on the table which will deliver on the will of the British people while avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

“The prime minister is working hard to secure a deal and hopes all MPs will be able to support it.”

Justice secretary David Gauke said “an overwhelming majority within the Conservative Party” backed the government’s approach, telling the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “There isn’t an alternative credible plan out there.”

Number 10 said May would be chairing a special meeting of the Cabinet on Thursday to discuss the preparations for a no-deal Brexit if Britain fails to secure an agreement with Brussels.

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