Secret Brexit deal struck? Next few days will show

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

The story that a "secret Brexit deal" has been done in the Sunday Times felt like a pull together of what we already know.

A UK customs-wide arrangement, which would sit on top of the controversial EU-Northern Ireland backstop, had been discussed, we knew that. Legally binding and signed off by the attorney general, it would be a possible way to satisfy the Cabinet.

We know that the facility for extending the transition period by "a matter of months" is in play.

Sounds like a plan, but, red line alert, we also know the EU and Ireland are insisting on the "all weather" backstop which has no time limit.

This would keep NI in the EU customs union and single market in the event of no deal. This is the only way Ireland and the EU say they can guarantee no hard border in Ireland.

Michel Barnier and the EU are still negotiating with the UK. Credit: AP

It has been spookily quiet in Brussels, partly thanks to the two-day holiday for EU institutions last Thursday and Friday.

The day off didn't stop Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, and the Commission responding to a "financial services deal done" story on Thursday.

Their insistence that the EU retains autonomy over equivalence (the level playing field for banks and financial services firms across the EU) was perhaps an insight into the atmosphere. Not quite as jolly as the UK likes to make out, it seems.

The risk for any deal the PM manages to construct is that it will be greeted in a similar way to the "reforms" David Cameron brought back pre-referendum. As in, not enough to appease the pro-Brexit wing of the Conservative Party.

The focus will be back in Brussels this week as the UK and EU teams continue to try to find a way to a deal.

Any clues will be pored over. Mr Barnier is due to make a speech in Brussels tomorrow. His words and even his body language will be monitored.

It will soon become clear if a deal is in the offing. Credit: AP

EU ambassadors meet on Wednesday, the day after a crucial UK Cabinet meeting, and at their talks they may well be told there has been progress.

That would trigger the first steps towards setting up a summit in November for EU leaders. That meeting might give us the first sense that a deal has been done.

Next Monday, European ministers are due to meet and, if things have continued to go well for the negotiating teams, then they would give the green light for a summit on the 17th and 18th November.

It's all a bit groundhog day and sounds similar to the build up to the October summit.

The Sunday before that summit, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, arrived in Brussels, brakes screeching to stick a stick in the spokes of a deal.

Objections to the EU's NI backstop from the DUP, the Government's vital parliamentary allies, were threatening the Budget.

Something significant will have to have changed to avoid a repeat of the whole Jenga tower of compromise coming crashing down again.

Day by day a deal gets closer, we're told. The next few days will allow us to decide if that's true.