Brexit deal will be agreed within three weeks, Dominic Raab tells MPs
‘I would be happy to give evidence to the committee when a deal is finalised, and currently expect 21 November to be suitable’
The Brexit secretary told MPs the talks were on course to achieve a breakthrough by 21 November, insisting: “The end is now firmly in sight.”
In a letter to the Brexit committee, Mr Raab wrote: “While obstacles remain, it cannot be beyond us to navigate them.
“We have resolved most of the issues and we are building up together what the future relationship should look like and making real progress.”
And, in a crucial sentence, he added: “I would be happy to give evidence to the committee when a deal is finalised, and currently expect 21 November to be suitable.”
However, Theresa May’s spokesman refused – multiple times – to endorse her minister’s view that the talks were poised to achieve success, despite the failure to strike a deal at the EU summit this month.
“We have always said we want to conclude the process as soon as possible,” he said, declining to say that would happen in November.
The Brexit appeared deadlocked after the EU rejected Theresa May’s insistence that the “backstop” – to prevent Irish border checks – must keep the entire UK, rather than simply Northern Ireland, in the EU custom’s territory.
Cabinet ministers have also threatened to resign unless there is a time limit on the backstop, fearing the UK will otherwise be locked into EU rules permanently.
And the prime minister also faces a threat by the Democratic Unionist Party to end its propping up of the Tories in power if she allows new regulatory checks between Britain and Northern Ireland.
In his letter, sent last week but only published today, Mr Raab did not go into any detail about the negotiations, which only resumed between officials this week.
But he said the UK and the EU now “agree on the principle of a UK-wide customs backstop” – although the two sides had still appeared far apart on the controversy.
The EU has said it is willing to make a legal commitment to exploring a UK-wide customs backstop, but argued there is no time to agree the details before Brexit day.
Therefore, it would appear only in an annexe to the withdrawal agreement – which must still contain the UK’s legal commitment to a Northern Ireland-only version, as the ultimate guarantee of no return to a hard border.
Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, accused Mr Raab of an “arrogant statement”.
“There’s no indication that any progress has been made on the Irish border question,” she said.
“But, more than that, there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that any deal brought back would be acceptable to parliament – or even Dominic Raab’s own party.”
Mr Rabb backtracked later, with a spokesman for his department saying: “There is no set date for the negotiations to conclude. The 21 November was the date offered by the chair of the select committee for the secretary of state to give evidence.”
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.
Sign our petition here