'No time' to strike a Brexit deal before crunch EU summit, EU Council president warns Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has been told that there is no time for him to strike a fresh Brexit deal before this week's crucial EU summit.
The Prime Minister is aiming to secure an agreement at the European Council meeting, which kicks off on Thursday, before a possible Commons vote on his plans on Saturday.
Under the terms of the Benn Act, a deal must be passed by 19 October or else Johnson must seek a three-month Brexit extension.
But Finland's prime minister Antti Rinne, whose country holds the rotating EU Council presidency and will therefore chair this week's summit, said there was now "no time" to find an agreement before the gathering kicks off.
Speaking to reporters alongside the incoming European Council President Charles Michel, Rinne warned: "I think there is no time in a practical or legal way to find an agreement before the EU Council meeting. We need more time."
Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell meanwhile said he believed it may be time to "stop the watch" and take more time to finalise an agreement.
"You know, in Europe, we always take decisions on the edge of the precipice, on the edge of the cliff," he said.
"Even when the last minute comes, then we stop the watch and say that we need technically more time to fulfil all the requirements, all the last-minute requirements."
In a further sign that negotiations have reached a critical juncture, the Prime Minister has postponed this morning's Cabinet meeting until tomorrow, when he hopes there will be more details to tell his ministerial colleagues.
EU ministers will, however, get an update on the state of negotiations from the bloc's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, on Tuesday.
It comes after Ireland's deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, also raised the prospect of talks having to continue "into next week", possibly at an emergency EU Council summit.
"I think it’s too early to say, even though we’re only a few days away from the summit," the Tánaiste told broadcaster RTÉ.
"It’s too early to say whether it’s possible to get a breakthrough this week or whether it will move into next week."
He added: "What they’re attempting to do here is to write a legal text for an international treaty, that is a withdrawal agreement.
"That means it’s got to be watertight, it’s got to stand up to full scrutiny and legal challenge potentially, and what they’re trying to do is complicated.
"They’re trying to put in place an arrangement that is NI-specific, that protects UK interests and EU interests, in a way that’s quite complex.
“So we need to give negotiating teams space to do that, I think there is good will and a political determination to get this done.
"It is being left very late in the day, but we shouldn’t write off this summit as a potential opportunity for agreement."
The Prime Minister's latest plan to break the Brexit deadlock – unveiled in "very positive" talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week – would see all of the United Kingdom leave the EU's customs union.
However, the EU's tariff regime would continue to be applied across the island of Ireland in a bid to avoid a hard border, with a UK-run rebate system in place to compensate businesses affected by differing rates.
The DUP's support for the proposals will be crucial to their chances of passing the Commons, and Arlene Foster held talks with Johnson in Downing Street on Monday evening.
Downing Street remains adamant that Mr Johnson would not seek a further extension, even if a deal is not passed by Saturday.
"I think the Prime Minister has always said we need to leave the EU on the 31 [October]," his spokesperson said.
"We need to leave the EU on 31 October to restore trust in our democracy. That is what the Prime Minister is committed to achieving."
Johnson's hope of getting any agreement through the Commons meanwhile received a boost on Monday as another Conservative Brexiteer signalled that they would be willing to back a deal.
Tory MP Lee Rowley, who voted against Theresa May's agreement three times, told the Commons that he now believed it was "a moment for decision" and time to "get Brexit done".
"In the last few days, there is at least hope that this toxic and crippling fog, which we have created, might just be lifting as the Prime Minister sketches the outline of a way forward," he said.
"And I speak as someone who has been robust in my review of previous proposals, but the House must surely see that we have debated long enough."