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‘Progress’ in Brexit talks but still no deal as ‘outstanding issues’ remain

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The UK and EU have inched closer to a Brexit deal but no agreement will be reached on Tuesday, according to a government source.

Following negotiations that went late into Monday evening and resumed on Tuesday morning, Downing Street was able to report “progress” in talks with Brussels.

“It’s closer than it was yesterday,” the government source said.

But expectations of an imminent breakthrough on a withdrawal deal were tempered, with a source adding: “It’s not going to happen today.”

Cabinet ministers gathered for their weekly meeting on Tuesday morning, where Prime Minister Theresa May provided an update on the current state of Brexit negotiations.

Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “The prime minister told cabinet that since it had last met negotiations had continued in Brussels and good progress had been made.

“However, the prime minister said there remained a small number of outstanding issues as the UK pushes for the best text that can be negotiated.”

Earlier, Mrs May’s de facto deputy David Lidington revealed the government is “almost within touching distance now” of an agreement, but added: “We are not quite there yet.”

On Monday night, a group of Brexiteer ministers met to coordinate their actions ahead of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, amid their reported concerns at proposals for a temporary UK-wide customs arrangement with the EU aimed at avoiding a hard Irish border.

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt met in the office of International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.

The end of Wednesday – or perhaps even Thursday – is viewed as the latest for a cabinet agreement on a deal, should Mrs May want to have EU leaders sign-off on the terms of the UK’s divorce at an extraordinary Brexit summit this month.

It has prompted speculation cabinet ministers could reconvene in Downing Street on Wednesday for an emergency meeting.

The positivity over progress towards a Brexit deal in London was echoed in Strasbourg, where European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the European Parliament.

“We do not want to punish the UK,” he said, adding: “We have to respect the vote in the UK.”

“In the interests of Britain, in the interests of the EU, we are not in an aggressive mood when it comes to the future relationship with Britain.

“The EU, the continent, has to recognise that Britain, starting in 1939, was playing a major role when it came to the liberty and the freedom of this continent.”

Mr Juncker described Brexit as “a tragedy, an historical error, [and] a mistake”, but added: “We have to do the best out if it.

“The European Commission, together with [EU chief Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier, is moving to that direction.”

The continued wait for a Brexit deal prompted accusations of Number 10 and Brussels engaging in theatrics from ex-foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who returned to his attack on Mrs May’s Brexit strategy.

He posted on Twitter: “No one is fooled by this theatre. Delay after staged managed delay. A deal will be reached and it will mean surrender by the UK.

“We will be doomed to remain in the customs union and under Brussels’ regulatory control. People did not vote for colony status.”

Mr Johnson reiterated his demand for Mrs May to “change course now” in Brexit negotiations.

The enduring absence of an agreement with Brussels also brought new suggestions of a “no-deal” Brexit.

Julian Braithwaite, the UK’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, told a committee of MPs there had been a shift in attitudes at the international trade body, whose tariff rules Britain will fall back on if it exits the EU without a divorce agreement.

“I think it is dawning on them that actually, something that I don’t think they actually ever really thought was a possibility … which is the possibility that we might leave without a deal,” he said.

“If you are being prudent you make sure you have got some insurance policies in place and one of those insurance policies… is just getting our house in order at the WTO.”

If a Brexit agreement is secured, Mrs May faces a battle to win parliamentary support for her deal.

Her chances of winning a House of Commons vote were dealt a further blow by Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey signalling she will not back the prime minister’s deal if it “panders” to Republic of Ireland demands for the post-Brexit Irish border.

In an article for the LabourList website, the Vauxhall MP claimed “hypocrisy” from Dublin “makes it certain that I and many other MPs will not support an agreement with the EU that panders to this kind of behaviour”.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Jo Johnson – who quit the government last week in protest at Mrs May’s handling of Brexit – accused ministers of being “tricksy” in attempting to get a Brexit deal passed by MPs.

Repeating his call for a second EU referendum, Mr Johnson wrote in The Times: “The government is proposing a withdrawal agreement that will make it harder to create wealth, leave us with no influence over the EU rules we must follow and diminish us further on the world stage.”

(c) Sky News 2018: ‘Progress’ in Brexit talks but still no deal as ‘outstanding issues’ remain