Dominic Raab has appeared to suggest the UK’s Brexit negotiations with the European Union could be completed before 21 November, in a letter to a Commons select committee that emerged on Wednesday.
Writing to the Brexit select committee, the cabinet member responsible for the day-to-day negotiations said he would be “happy to give evidence when a deal is finalised, and currently expect November 21 to be suitable”.
The suggestion was contained in an optimistic three-page letter dated 24 October but only released on Wednesday afternoon by the committee of MPs that also said “we are not far from an agreement” on the vexed question of what backstop arrangements to adopt if a free trade deal cannot be signed.
The UK wants the EU to agree to drop the Northern Ireland-only backstop in favour of allowing the entire UK to remain in a country-wide “temporary customs arrangement” with the 27-country bloc if no free trade deal can be concluded by time the transition period ends in December 2020.
Raab’s letter suggests the EU has accepted the idea of the temporary customs arrangement. “We agree on the principle of a UK-wide customs backstop,” the Brexit secretary wrote.
No 10 sources were quick to downplay the significance of the date, other than to indicate that they hope a deal would be concluded in November. “We hope to reach an agreement as soon as possible,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.
Accepting that the UK could continue negotiating into December would ensure that the talks would drift into the last month of the year otherwise.
The pound briefly lifted by 0.5% as the letter emerged, before falling back to its lunchtime levels.