Theresa May is aiming to give MPs a vote on both a Brexit withdrawal agreement and outline future trading relations with the EU before Christmas.

But in a bid to reassure Brexiteers that she will not make too many concessions to get a quick deal with Brussels, she told ministers at cabinet that she would not agree terms “at any costs”.

The prime minister discussed the timetable around Brexit negotiations and options relating to the vexed issue of what happens to the Irish border with her team of top ministers on Tuesday.

But it came as hopes of getting the withdrawal agreement signed off with European leaders at a special summit in November appeared to be receding, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying an agreement on the Irish border was still “not close”.

After the cabinet, Ms May’s spokesman said: “The prime minister said she was confident of reaching a deal. She said that, while the UK should aim to secure a withdrawal agreement as soon as possible, this would not be done at any cost.

“The prime minister said that, once agreement was reached on a withdrawal agreement, it remains the case that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and it will be subject to securing an acceptable full future framework.”

The Independent understands that Downing Street believes a withdrawal agreement could be agreed with Mr Barnier, and then in a period before an EU summit is held to sign it off, the outstanding parts of the outline future trading relationship could also be fleshed out.

The goal would then be for a European Council summit to approve the lot, passing the baton to MPs in the UK to vote on it in parliament before Christmas.

Ms May could be hoping that a positive outlook for future trade set out by the two sides, would persuade Bexiteers to accept a certain amount of compromise over the issue of the Irish border in the withdrawal agreement allowing it to pass through the Commons.

But the turnaround would require the EU and UK to reach an agreement on how to deal with what happens to the Irish border, in the event that a full trading relationship had not yet been set out by the end of the transition period in December 2020.

Under these circumstances the EU’s position is that Northern Ireland at least should remain in the EU’s customs union until a trade deal is set in stone, in order to keep the border with the Republic open, but Ms May says she wants a solution where the whole UK remains in a “temporary customs arrangement” – essentially Britain staying in the EU’s customs union on a more strictly “time limited” basis.

At the cabinet, attorney general Geoffrey Cox is said to have set out a range of proposals for a “review mechanism” that would ensure the UK is not stuck indefinitely in the backstop arrangement, but finding something that satisfies Brexiteers – would want the UK to have the power to pull out unilaterally is going to be difficult.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says he expects Brexit deal by Nov 21

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the prime minister on Monday that he was ready to consider a review mechanism as part of a “backstop” arrangement to keep the border with Northern Ireland open after Brexit.

But he made clear that he would not accept an arrangement which gave the UK unilateral powers to ditch the customs union without the agreement of Brussels.

Mr Barnier told Belgian broadcaster RTBF on Tuesday: “For now, we are still negotiating and I am not, as I am speaking to you this morning, able to tell you that we are close to reaching an agreement, since there is still a real point of divergence on the way of guaranteeing peace in Ireland, that there are no borders in Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the single market.”



The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.

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