PM May dives into diplomacy in bid to clinch Brexit deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May steps up attempts to court European support for a Brexit deal on Thursday as negotiations on securing a smooth British divorce from the world’s biggest trading bloc enter their final stages.

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is seen after the ASEM leaders group photo opportunity during a summit in Brussels, Belgium October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

She will meet three other EU leaders in Brussels at a NATO dinner on Thursday and have lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.

EU officials and diplomats tried to play down speculation on an imminent deal after an Austrian newspaper report that a deal could be reached “in the coming days” sent the pound higher.

“Parts of the withdrawal agreement still require further negotiation, in particular the issue of avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland,” an EU document said on Thursday before the bloc’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier debriefs national ministers on Monday.

Some diplomats said they felt more optimistic than earlier in the week about seeing a deal completed this month. But one senior EU official told Reuters: “A deal is certainly not done. There’s a bit of progress on the backstop but we’ve no idea if it will fly in London. Both sides are still talking, which is good, but we haven’t been told that a deal is imminent.”

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, whose country insists on a “backstop” clause to avoid disruption on its land border with the British province of Northern Ireland, said “not by a long shot” should an imminent breakthrough be taken for granted.

Even a deal among May and her fractious ministers would not necessarily mean the EU would fall in line,

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