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The EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday said that it was possible for the UK and the EU to reach a Brexit deal within six to eight weeks. Barnier said, “I think that if we are realistic we are able to reach an agreement on the first stage of the negotiation, which is the Brexit treaty, within 6 or 8 weeks,” adding, “Taking into account the time necessary for the ratification process… We must reach an agreement before the beginning of November. I think it is possible.”
Elsewhere, EU27 leaders will announce at next week’s informal summit in Salzburg, Austria, that a special Brexit summit will take place in November, the Guardian reports. At the special summit, which will reportedly take place on November 13, EU leaders are expected to finalise the terms of the future relationship with the UK in spheres such as trade, security, aviation and fisheries.
Elsewhere, Number 10 has briefed aides that Michel Barnier has shifted his position on the Chequers proposal in recent weeks, according to The Times. The paper suggests that the EU is willing to acknowledge Chequers as a “useful” basis for a deal, despites its opposition to some elements of the government’s plan. Number 10 is also reportedly preparing for a parliamentary vote on the Withdrawal Agreement by Christmas, with Conservative whips reportedly “very confident” the vote would pass.
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The former Brexit minister Steve Baker has warned that “almost 80” Conservative MPs “are willing to vote in the House of Commons to protest the [Prime Minister’s] Chequers deal.” He went on to claim that the Conservative Party faces “a catastrophic split if [the Chequers plan] is pushed through – particularly if it is pushed through with Labour votes.”
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Theresa May said, “Chequers is the only plan on the table which will deliver on the will of the British people while avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister is working hard to secure a deal and hopes all MPs will be able to support it.”
Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports that the Conservative Eurosceptic group, the ERG, will hold a press conference tomorrow laying out its alternative proposals to solve the Irish border issue. According to The Sun, the ERG will argue that a hard border on the island of Ireland could be avoided by ‘Inland Clearance’ in which goods destined for export would be checked by tax officials at factories and at arrival destinations, rather than carrying out customs and regulatory checks at the border. Under the ERG’s proposal, firms would have to declare the tax they owe on goods crossing the border, which would be enforced by ‘mobile inspections teams’ of customs officials.
Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, on Sunday announced he was seeking an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron’s party La République En Marche (LREM). Verhofstadt said that his aim was to create “a pro-European alternative to nationalists” ahead of the upcoming European elections in May 2019, adding, “It will be something new, a movement…Our group is ready to participate starting from now, without delay.” This comes as Christophe Castaner, the head of LREM, said in response to Verhofstadt’s proposal, “We are not ready for an alliance.”
The European Parliament will tomorrow vote on whether to start an ‘Article 7’ procedure against Hungary over problems concerning the rule of law in the country. The triggering of the article necessitates a two-thirds majority in the parliament, and, if successful, allows for the use of sanctions such as limits on voting rights. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose party sits in the European People’s Party (EPP) together with Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, said his MEPs would vote for launching the procedure, arguing, “There are no compromises on the rule of law. The core values need to be protected.” Kurz added that if the procedure was successfully triggered, he would support expelling Fidesz from the (EPP). This comes as The Guardian reports that Conservative Party MEPs will vote against triggering Article 7.
In a new article for the Guardian, Open Europe’s Henry Newman writes, “The Chequers deal was an attempt to shape a future relationship with the EU somewhere between the Canada and Norway models – more than a free trade agreement but less than the full single market. Yet having taken so long to make up her mind, the Prime Minister has since done far too little to defend her policy.” He argues that there is a strong political case for the Chequers proposal, “But she has never really levelled with her party or the country and explained that a divided parliament will necessitate a different approach.” He also notes, “A compromise Brexit also has merits in policy terms. Chequers would protect British manufacturing, while recognising that the UK couldn’t be a rule-taker on services. The deal would allow the UK to participate in the single market for goods, keeping the Irish border open, and end free movement.” Newman concludes, “The public know that Brexit involves hard choices. They voted for it precisely because they wanted to upend the status quo…It’s past time for the Prime Minister to dust down her lectern and do us the courtesy of explaining her plan to get us out and why it deserves our support.”