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Only ‘small problems’ remain in Brexit talks, says senior EU source

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Theresa May is trying to clear the final hurdles to a Brexit deal (Reuters)

A senior EU diplomat has boosted hopes of an imminent Brexit breakthrough by saying that there are only “small problems” left to overcome in negotiations.

At a briefing to journalists in Brussels, the source said they are now “fairly certain” a deal will be achieved.

“The problems are not huge anymore,” they said. “These are small problems which one should be able to overcome, especially when you see the price [of failure]: having a no deal Brexit.”

The source couldn’t say whether progress will come quickly enough for a deal to be signed-off at a summit later this month rather than in mid-December.

An Austrian newspaper reported that the Withdrawal Agreement will be ready by Monday, while reports in London suggested there could be white smoke from Brussels on Tuesday.

In a sign that a deal could be imminent, the European Commission requested that a crunch Brexit meeting with representatives of EU27 countries be pushed back until Friday.

However, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney urged caution, saying “an imminent breakthrough is not necessarily to be taken for granted.”

Ireland’s European commissioner Phil Hogan said: “I would say if I was a betting person we would have a December council to discuss the final outcome and hopefully we can do a deal.”

Irish EU commissioner Phil Hogan played down the chances of an imminent deal (Getty)

Theresa May’s senior Brexit adviser, Olly Robbins, is in Brussels to work on the details of a compromise agreement on the Irish border backstop – the final major outstanding issue.

Whenever the deal does come, the senior EU diplomat said it would be a “fair compromise.”

Asked what the score would be if talks were a football match, he said it would be 1-1.

“To be honest, on the governance we wanted to have the ECJ everywhere,” he said of the UK’s negotiation successes.

“On the backstop, if we have some kind of UK-wide customs union, this is very much taking care of what the UK wants. It’s a fair compromise.

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“What better to have a match where everyone is happy afterwards? As a diplomat I’m happy with 1-1 because nobody is angry and the fans can be happy with each other.”

Despite his confidence about a deal, the source said the EU would continue with its no-deal planning right up until the UK leaves next March.

“Even if we have an agreement and we have champagne flowing over the glasses and everyone happy with cheeky red faces, even if we have that situation, we don’t know if it enters into force because if you have a Withdrawal Agreement, it needs parliamentary approval by the European parliament and the British parliament,” they said.

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