BRITAIN and the European Union have dropped their October deadline to thrash out a Brexit deal with senior officials from both camps admitting it would be impossible to meet, according to insiders.
Negotiators are still publicly insisting they want the deal wrapped up within the next seven weeks but sources say in reality the divorce terms will not be finalised until at least mid-November.
An EU summit on October 18 had been earmarked as the deadline after talk of reaching accord by June came to nothing.
The deadline extension reveals negotiators are struggling to make progress in talks that have moved at a snail’s pace since agreement on a transitional period was reached back in March.
Both sides are fully aware that the closer the talks run to the March 29 Brexit date the greater that Britain will leave without a deal.
If the timeframe is stretched further into December or even January, decisions will have to be made on whether to give ground or walk away.
The two sides remain at loggerheads over how to guarantee there will never be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but British officials insist they remain “confident” of getting a deal.
Theresa May’s spokesman Greg Swift said: “We’re working to the October deadline. Both sides have agreed to increase the pace of negotiations. That’s what we’re doing.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier would not commit to October as the deadline for the completion of the accord when he met Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab last month but said it could not be much later than that.
Both sides wanted to strike a deal by October to leave enough time for the accord to be ratified before Britain legally leaves the bloc.
M Raab returns to Brussels to resume negotiations later this week after issuing 24 no-deal “technical notices” intended to inform consumers and businesses what would happen if Britain exits the EU next March without a trade deal.
He insists he expects to reach agreement with the EU27 but the notices included warnings that British citizens living in EU countries from their pensions and bank accounts, credit card payments could become more expensive and exporters would immediately face tariffs for goods on sale to the EU.
Mrs May, who is travelling in Africa this week, told journalists a no-deal outcome – which some hardline Brexiters believe would be preferable to her Chequers plan – was “not the end of the world”.