Hopes of Brexit deal fade as Boris Johnson warns there is 'significant work' still to do
Hopes of a Brexit deal being done in time for the UK to leave the EU at the end of the month are fading after Boris Johnson told Cabinet there is a "significant amount of work" still to do before an agreement can be reached.
The Prime Minister briefed ministers on the latest developments in a conference call on Sunday afternoon, as the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier told ambassadors that "more work needs to be done" to strike an agreement.
UK and EU negotiators will meet again in Brussels on Monday ahead of a crucial European Council summit on Thursday and Friday aimed at striking an agreement.
If a deal can be reached, ministers will then put it to a vote in a special Commons session on Saturday.
Speaking after the call with the Cabinet, a Number 10 spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister updated Cabinet on the current progress being made in ongoing Brexit negotiations, reiterating that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31.
"The Prime Minister said there was a way forward for a deal that could secure all our interests, respect the Good Friday Agreement, get rid of the backstop and get Brexit done by October 31 so we can push on with domestic agenda, investing in our NHS, tackling violent crime, and dealing with the cost of living."
Mr Barnier meanwhile told senior diplomats that talks at official-level had been "constructive".
But he warned that the UK's current customs proposals for Northern Ireland remain "unacceptable" and that "more work needs to be done" to reach an agreement.
The Prime Minister's plan to break the Brexit deadlock would see all of the United Kingdom leave the EU's customs union.
However, the EU's tariff regime would continue to be applied on the island of Ireland in a bid to avoid a hard border, with a rebate system in place to compensate businesses affected.
'UP TO THE BRITS'
Mr Barnier's assessment came as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker talked up the chances of a Brexit extension if the two sides cannot strike a deal in time for the current 31 October deadline.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly promised to take Britain out of the EU "come what may" on the Halowe'en date, although the cross-party Benn Act orders him to seek an extension if he cannot reach an agreement with the EU by 19 October.
The European Commission chief told Austrian newspaper the Kurier that Brussels was unlikely to refuse a request to further delay Brexit.
"It’s up to the Brits to decide if they will ask for an extension," Mr Juncker said.
"But if Boris Johnson were to ask for extra time - which probably he won’t - I would consider it unhistoric to refuse such a request."
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Sunday night insisted there was a "very good chance" that Mr Johnson could get a deal through Parliament if one was reached this week - but warned MPs that amending the Government's Brexit bill could boost the chances of a no-deal exit.
"The key to this will be the Meaningful Vote," the Cabinet ministery told Pienaar's Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live.
"If the Meaningful Vote goes through, the law implementing it will be an international treaty like the 1972 European Communities Act which isn’t open to much in the way of amendment because if you amend it you haven’t ratified the treaty and therefore the treaty falls.
"So the people who vote for the Meaningful Vote will need to be accepting the legislation pretty much in total."
And he added: "In this case if the bill is amended we will leave without a deal."