Dominic Raab mocked after 'quickest U-turn in history' over Brexit deal date claim
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has been left red-faced after being forced to backtrack on his claim that a deal with Brussels could be struck in less than three weeks' time.
The value of the pound soared after Mr Raab said in a letter to the House of Commons Brexit Committee that he would be happy to appear before it "when a deal is finalised, and currently expect 21 November to be suitable".
But in an embarassing climbdown, a spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the European Union was forced to issue a statement attempting to downplay the significance of the minister's comment.
"There is no set date for the negotiations to conclude," a spokesperson said. "The 21st November was the date offered by the Chair of the Select Committee for the Secretary of State to give evidence."
Labour were quick to seize on the apparent about-face from the top Cabinet minister.
“This must be one of the quickest u-turns in political history," said Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer. "Three hours later his own department was forced to correct the record. What a mess."
The climbdown came amid reports that Theresa May has struck a deal with the European Union on the future of Britain's multi-billion pound banking sector - a key plank of any final Brexit agreement with Brussels.
Government sources told The Times that negotiators had come to an agreement that would see UK financial services firms given the same level of access to EU markets after Britain quits the bloc.
The paper reports that the UK and EU will maintain "equivalence" in rules affecting the services sector - but says Brussels could still block access to its markets if it decides Britain's banking regulations are out of step with its own.
Despite Mr Raab's letter raising hopes of a broader Brexit deal, the talks appear to remain deadlocked over the best way to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
According to The Telegraph, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier is coming under mounting pressure to break the impasse by agreeing to the Britain's demand for an open-ended, UK-wide Customs Union with the European Union.
Brussels has previously called for Northern Ireland alone to remain in a customs arrangement and parts of the single market - effectively creating a new trade border down the Irish Sea.
But a senior EU diplomat told The Telegraph: "There are legal issues, but we must be pragmatic not dogmatic, this is ultimately only a backstop, and everyone wants to fix this through the future relationship."