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'We're working very hard': Theresa May says they can solve Irish backstop issue

Ahead of today’s meeting, Theresa May and other European leaders gave their thoughts on how likely a Brexit deal was.

Updated Oct 17th 2018, 7:57 PM

Belgium EU Brexit Source: Francisco Seco via PA Images

UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has said that there’s still time to strike a Brexit deal and to solve the Irish backstop issue.

May and leaders from the 27 member states are meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow to discuss the progress made in Brexit talks. It had been expected that a final deal would be available by now to discuss.

“I will be talking to leaders tonight about the good progress that has been made since Salzburg, both on the Withdrawal Agreement and on our future partnership,” May told reporters this afternoon, before speaking to EU leaders.

She said that although both teams have been working very hard, that avoiding an Irish border and agreeing to a backstop remains an issue.

Yes there are differences on the Northern Ireland backstop issue, by working intensively together, I believe we can resolve those issues, I believe we can achieve a deal.

“I believe that everyone around the table wants to get a deal,” she said. “I believe a deal is achievable and now is a time to make it happen.”

Leo Varadkar 3 Leo Varadkar and Theresa May meet in Brussels today. Source: Taoiseach/Twitter

After one-on-one meetings with Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, May will brief her 27 European colleagues before leaving the EU leaders to discuss Brexit over dinner without her.

Tusk has made it clear that if May and Barnier do not signal concrete progress towards a draft Brexit deal, he will not call a November summit to sign it.

Instead, the matter could either be pushed back to December or – more dramatically – the EU could use the November weekend to meet on preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit.

Varadkar and Coveney

Last night, reports emerged that Barnier was open to extending the transition period in exchange for an agreement on a backstop for Northern Ireland. The UK have been opposed to any deal that would “carve off” the North from Great Britain.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney told the BBC that Barnier is proposing an extension, but didn’t say for how long.

Another diplomat warned that the idea “was not really on the table and poses a political problem for the UK”, as Brexiteers are against any proposal that involves extending their stay within the EU.

Speaking from Brussels, Varadkar said that although he’s open to new suggestions on how to break the deadlock, he said that an extension to the transition period “couldn’t be a substitute for the backstop”.

What other leaders think

“I’m an optimistic person but not today, I have to say,” said Slovakia’s Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini.

“I think we will get information that there is still no deal and I think we should do the maximum to try to have an agreement, but we should be prepared as a no-deal result.”

My hope was that today we would have some concrete solution on the table but it looks like it will not be a deal today.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that a Brexit deal can be secured in the coming weeks.

“Basically the debate is centred on the issue of the Irish border and how to prevent a border in the Irish Sea which is something the UK desperately wants to avoid.”

Of course we all want to avoid a hard border in Ireland itself.

At tonight’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Tánaiste Simon Coveney told party colleagues that the main core Irish issue in Brexit– a legally operable backstop agreed by the EU and UK – is still not resolved.

Coveney said the government cannot agree any withdrawal treaty that doesn’t have the backstop in it,  as agreed last December.

- with reporting from AFP

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