Government plans big push to solve Brexit deadlock

The European Union will receive detailed papers from the Government this week as talks to negotiate a deal ramp up ahead of the looming Brexit deadline on October 31.

Boris Johnson has pushed for the Northern Irish backstop – the pledge to keep the UK aligned with EU customs rules to prevent a hard border if no exit deal can be agreed – to be removed “whole and entire” before a Withdrawal Agreement can be signed off.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier met on Friday to progress discussions on the backstop.

The Government is now preparing to advance those talks this week after the Conservative Party conference in Manchester has finished.

Cabinet meeting
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay was in Brussels on Friday for talks (Victoria Jones/PA)

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “I expect further discussions to be taking place with the EU this week.

“We sent a further paper to the EU at the end of last week. In terms of formal proposals, we will put those forward when we are ready to do so.”

It is understood the Government sees the detail of the papers and discussions this week to be the most detailed proposals put forward since Mr Johnson took over from Theresa May.

Ministers and UK negotiators have already briefed the EU on its idea for an all-Ireland veterinary and phytosanitary zone (SPS zone) to allow livestock and other natural goods to move across the border without the need for checks.

Any checks that are needed could happen away from the border by mobile units, according to papers leaked earlier this month.

It would effectively create a border down the Irish Sea, meaning certain goods entering and leaving Ireland for Britain would require a level of inspection.

With less than five weeks until exit day, Mr Johnson has continued to hold fast to the Halloween deadline to secure a deal with the EU.

PMQs Johnson
Boris Johnson will not be in Westminster to take part in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (Henry Nicholls/PA)

Asked whether the PM was prepared to request an extension to Article 50 when he meets other leaders at the European Council on October 17-18, his spokesman told journalists: “The purpose of the summit from the Prime Minister’s point of view is to seek to agree a deal.

“He has said on many occasions that we are leaving on October 31.”

Number 10 refused to be drawn on whether Cabinet had been briefed on how the Tory leader planned to get around the demands of the Benn Act, which calls on the PM to ask for an extension if a deal has not been agreed by October 19.

“I don’t have anything further to add, other than that we will comply with the law and leave on October 31,” said the spokesman.

Cabinet will not meet this week due to the Tory conference in Manchester taking place, with the next gathering scheduled for next week.

Downing Street confirmed Mr Johnson will not return to London to take questions from MPs on Wednesday.

He instead plans to send Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to stand in for him during Prime Minister’s Questions while he remains in Manchester at the conference.

The PM is due to address members on Wednesday afternoon and Downing Street confirmed Mr Johnson will return to Number 10 after his speech.

A minister from each department has remained in London in case there are urgent questions to answer in the Commons while the conference is going ahead.

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