Downing Street plays down EU rhetoric on a Brexit deal being close

Time is running out for a Brexit agreement to be reached (Source: Getty)

Downing Street today called for actions, not words from the EU as the clock ticks down on the Brexit talks.

Speaking ahead of a crunch summit in Brussels next week, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said there are still "big issues" to be worked out before a deal can be agreed between the UK and EU.

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The most controversial is the so-called Irish backstop dispute, with both sides having different visions of how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Downing Street's comments came after positive noises from EU figures over the weekend, with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk both claiming an agreement could soon be reached.

Ireland's deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, echoed that optimism, claiming on Sunday that 90 per cent of the Brexit deal is complete.

The Prime Minister's spokesman gave a more downbeat assessment of the situation, saying today: "We have always said that we are working hard for a deal this autumn, and that continues at pace.

"It is worth me pointing out that there’s a difference between people talking optimistically about a deal, and a deal, including both a withdrawal agreement and the future framework, actually being agreed.

"There remain big issues to work through and, as the PM has said, this will require movement on the EU side.

"I will just make that point again that there can be no withdrawal agreement without a precise future framework."

Theresa May has promised to come forward with a new proposal for the Irish backstop, after her plan to keep the whole of the UK aligned with the EU's customs union for a temporary period was rejected by Brussels.

The EU was unhappy that May's plan would not see the UK following the same rules on regulations as other countries in the bloc.

Brussels' proposal was to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and Single Market, something May has said no UK prime minister could ever agree to.

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The UK and EU are taking part in "technical negotiations" this week, Downing Street confirmed.

EU leaders will discuss the progress of the talks at a meeting in Brussels from Wednesday 17 October to Friday 19 October.

If sufficient progress is deemed to have been made, a special Brexit summit will be held in November to finalise the withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future trading relationship.

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