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Britain narrows gap in last-gasp Brexit talks, only hours remain

LUXEMBOURG/DUBLIN (Reuters) – Britain and the EU made headway on Tuesday in last-ditch talks on a Brexit deal ahead of a leaders’ summit, but with just hours left to clinch an agreement it was still unclear if London could avoid postponing its scheduled departure 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 couldn’t 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.

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.

Britain’s plan to leave the EU, which has only ever added new member states, has compounded problems for a bloc torn by euroscepticism, economic disparities and an influx of migrants.

Britain has itself been polarised bitterly by Brexit and, even though an end-game appears to be in sight, the country is still intractably divided between leavers and remainers.

Technical talks in Brussels on the terms of Britain’s exit went into the evening on Tuesday after word emerged several hours earlier that gaps on an agreement had narrowed and the two sides were close to agreeing on a text.

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