Brexit deal within reach in last-ditch talks, but doubts remain

LUXEMBOURG/DUBLIN (Reuters) – Last-ditch talks between Britain and the European Union to get a Brexit deal ahead of a summit of the bloc’s leaders this week went on past midnight to Wednesday, but it was still unclear if London could avoid postponing its departure due on Oct. 31.

A man walks past an UK government Brexit information campaign poster at a bus stop in central London, Britain, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Officials and diplomats involved in negotiations over the acrimonious divorce between the world’s fifth-largest economy and its biggest trading bloc said that differences over the terms of the split had narrowed significantly.

However, the European Union’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, made clear at a meeting of the bloc’s ministers in Luxembourg that if an agreement could not be reached on Tuesday, it would be too late to send anything for leaders to approve at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Barnier also told EU ministers earlier on Tuesday that customs arrangements for the island of Ireland, the issue of giving more say to Northern Irish authorities as well as the so-called level-playing field clauses for fair competition were all still open.

On Tuesday night, an EU official said: “What is outstanding is the level-playing field provisions… There would be no customs duties on goods crossing to Northern Ireland if they were to stay there.”

But, as the clock struck midnight in Brussels, the talks were still going on between Britain’s Brexit negotiator David Frost and the EU’s executive European Commission.

That could force another extension of the date for the UK’s split from the 27 other member states, the third since Britons voted in a June 2016 referendum to quit the EU.

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