Downing Street has said that a “small number of outstanding issues” stand in the way of a Brexit deal after Prime Minister Theresa May updated the cabinet on the talks. Government sources have said that there was “optimism on both sides” after negotiations paused on Monday night.
A key sticking point is still the Irish border, and trade secretary Liam Fox told the BBC that “difficult discussions” were still happening. In October, May said that Brexit could be extended in order to carry on talks over the negotiations in Ireland.
The cabinet were briefed on the current state of negotiations, as well as what plans are for different scenarios after the UK has pulled out of the EU. May told of how progress had been made, but there were still a “small number of outstanding issues”, and work was due to continue.
Cabinet office minister David Lidington said prior to the meeting that “we are almost within touching distance”, but “it can’t be a deal at any price”. Lidington also said “there does come a time at which contingency planning does have to be stepped up”.
Some cabinet ministers met with Liam Fox at his offices on Monday night to discuss Brexit, which included plans in the event of a ‘no-deal’, and the Irish backstop. Fox said that there were “still issues” with the backstop and negotiators were having a “number of difficult discussions”.
Theresa May is under pressure from all sides of the Brexit argument as she negotiates a deal for the UK to leave the EU on 29th March 2019.
The government and the EU hope to reach a deal before the end of November, but this isn’t set in stone. A plan must be put in place by 21st January 2019, otherwise the government with ask MPs to vote on a plan of action.