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Theresa May’s hopes of November Brexit deal close to being dashed

Photo: PA

Olly Robbins and Sabine Weyand are talking again today to resolve the impasse on the backstop to keep open the border between Northern Ireland and Republic.

Sources tell me the UK and EU27 are still far apart on how to terminate the backstop, as and when it's not necessary.

Talks are still all about designing a mechanism that credibly assures both sides that the backstop won't last longer than each feels is necessary.

The lack of trust between both sides, and between different players on both sides (especially between Brexiters and Remainers in the government) makes this almost impossible, even though both sides insist that in practice they want the backstop (that would keep the whole of the UK in the customs union) to be temporary.

The gulf is so great that it is now inconceivable there'll be agreement in time for Theresa May to convene an emergency cabinet on Monday.

There's some small hope, though not much, that a compromise will be found to allow ministers to sign it off on Tuesday. But it looks increasingly likely that the deadline of Tuesday, that would allow the EU to convene an emergency summit to approve a deal later this month, will also be missed.

And that would mean the earliest the EU could approve a Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future relationship between the UK and EU would be at the EU Council in mid-December. Which would bring huge problems for the PM, because the timetable for all the parliamentary business necessary to approve the deal would be almost unbearably tight.

So if, as seems likely, there is no agreement between Weyand and Robbins by Monday night, and no approval of that agreement by Cabinet on Tuesday, the risk of a no-deal Brexit rises very, very appreciably.