Theresa May is to meet the EU leaders tonight
Donald Tusk, who chairs the EU leaders’ group, added to hopes that talks on a deal between Britain and Brussels will reach a decisive point in the coming week.
But senior UK Government sources and others sought to play down expectations.
The Prime Minister will meet her Belgian counterpart and hold a private working lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday when she takes part in ceremonies in Belgium and France to mark the end of the First World War 100 years ago.
Tonight she was at a Nato defence alliance dinner in Brussels with at least three EU leaders, of Holland, Romania and Belgium.
Aides stressed none of the events was intended to have a Brexit focus.
But they are timely as Mrs May races to overcome the final obstacles to agreeing Britain’s divorce terms from the EU.
Speculation of progress was fuelled by claims of a draft British timetable circulating where the UK Cabinet would meet on Monday to approve a draft withdrawal deal.
This would include the “backstop” agreement keeping the UK in the EU’s customs union if needed to ensure cross-border trade remains free-flowing between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and EU negotiator Michel Barnier are expected to meet
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab would meet EU negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels and the withdrawal agreement and outline future partnership paper would be published on Tuesday and Mrs May would present the deal to MPs on Wednesday.
An Austrian newspaper quoted EU Commission sources saying there could then be a special EU leaders’ summit on November 25 to approve the deal.
Asked about the chances of a deal in the next week, Mr Tusk told Channel 4 News: “I hope so … but still we need five, maybe six, maybe seven days.”
A Downing Street source stressed no agreement had been reached nor Cabinet meeting scheduled.
President of the European Council Donald Tusk said they need a few more days
“We are still in negotiations, and on that basis we don’t know when and if this will conclude,” they said, also urging people to treat European media reports of a deal in days “with a very large pinch of salt”.
Aides have warned that devising a Northern Ireland “backstop” which satisfies the EU while assuring worried ministers and MPs that Britain could not be trapped permanently in the customs union is highly complex.
But there are also claims Mrs May needs agreement by Monday for there to be a special summit of EU leaders this month.
This would give her more time to get the deal through Parliament by Christmas than if she has to wait for the routine mid-December EU meeting to rubber stamp it.
But one unnamed senior EU official was quoted warning: “A deal is certainly not done. There’s a bit of progress on the backstop but we’ve no idea if it will fly in London. We haven’t been told that a deal is imminent.”
Irish deputy PM and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned people not to get “carried away” by rumours.
He told a business conference in Dublin: “I would urge caution that an imminent breakthrough is not necessarily to be taken for granted, not by a long shot.
“Repeatedly people seem to make the same mistake over and over again, assuming that if the British Cabinet agrees something, that’s it and everything is agreed.
“This is a negotiation and there needs to be an agreement … also with the EU and the 27 countries that are represented by Michel Barnier.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in Paris that to clinch a deal in seven days was “probably pushing it” but he was confident one would be reached, adding: “We are in the final stage.”
Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News the process was “clearly in the closing stages. The next few days, the next couple of weeks, will be very important”.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who was lead negotiator with Mr Barnier until he quit in July in protest at Mrs May’s trade rules plan, added his voice to calls for the Government’s full legal advice on Brexit plans to be published to “pin down” before Parliament votes on the deal how the UK could exit the customs union.
The question of Ireland is still to be agreed on
Mr Davis also claimed the UK had been “unwilling to take any risk” in testing the EU’s negotiating stance and that while leaving next March 29 without a deal would cause some “hiccups in the first year”, Britain would then have “all the rights and controls over our own destiny … We are a big country, we can look after ourselves”.
The legal question of whether the UK can unilaterally cancel Brexit by revoking its Article 50 notice of departure will be decided by the European Court of Justice, it was announced today.
The ECJ referral, first approved in September, will be made this month after Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session, turned down an application from the UK government for permission to appeal in the UK Supreme Court.
FRANCE: EU and world leaders are expected to meet in Paris on November 11 for armistice day
The case is being brought by a cross-party group of politicians.
Pro-Brexit International Trade Secretary Liam Fox today added to pressure on Mrs May not to concede too much to Brussels as he said the UK must have the ability to end any post-Brexit “backstop” customs union membership.
Amid suggestions of a joint UK-EU panel to end any such deal, he told reporters that Britain could not “sub-contract” that decision to other people.