The deadline by which the Government can strike a Brexit deal with the European Union is likely to be pushed back beyond October, the Cabinet Office minister admitted yesterday.
David Lidington, who is effectively Theresa May’s deputy, said that a deal between the UK and the European Union by a November deadline would be “manageable”.
It is the first time a member of the Government has openly indicated that the deadline would need to be delayed as a Brexit agreement still remains some way off.
A very vague deal
Up until now, the working assumption had been that a deal would need to be agreed by the start of the European council summit on 18 October, although it has long been expected that this would be pushed back.
It comes as a former European Commissioner said “at least a very vague deal” would be reached before Britain leaves next year.
The Brexit talks remain at an impasse after Brussels rejected a central pillar of Mrs May’s Brexit customs plan towards the end of last month.
But any deal will need to be placed before both the British and the European Parliaments to ratify before the end of the Article 50 process, which is officially 29 March 2019.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said this week that “everything must be wrapped up no later than early November”, as he admitted there was no longer an official deadline.
Until then, Mr Barnier and the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab will “negotiate continuously” to avoid Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal.
Mr Lidington told the BBC he listened to Mr Barnier’s comments “with interest”, adding that he had “lived through enough emergency European council meetings to know that the European council can call additional meetings when it wants to”.
Both sides wanted to reach a deal “as quickly as possible” he added. “But if it slips beyond October into November, I think that is manageable”.
There will be a deal
The prospect of a no-deal Brexit is “highly unlikely” according to a former European Commissioner.
Karel De Gucht, who was European Commissioner for Trade between 2010 and 2014, has said that he believes that at the very least a “very vague deal” will be agreed before exit day.
Mr De Gucht said: “In the end there will be a deal, whether this is a solution is quite a different question.
“I believe it will be a very vague deal and immediately afterwards start what is exactly in the agreement. Politically I think it’s highly unlikely that this process will end with a no-deal on 29 March.”