When Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar said there was a “pathway” to a deal last week, people thought this might be the light at the end of a very long Brexit tunnel.
Now it turns out we weren’t even in the tunnel at the time – in fact, we’re just going into it now.
Lost in the dark? Don’t worry, we’re here to explain what the Brexit tunnel talks actually mean. And no, they’re nothing to do with the Channel Tunnel.
What are the Brexit ‘tunnel’ negotiations?
The tunnel is a term coined by Brussels for intense Brexit negotiations taken place away from the public eye.
Small teams from the UK and EU will hold decisive discussions over the key points of the withdrawal agreement away from the pressure of leaks and media scrutiny.
Only senior negotiators will be involved and there will be no documents, media briefings or anything that could be used to derail the process. Even the 27 ambassadors from EU nations will not be involved.
The discussions will centre on proposals for a replacement to the Irish border backstop following discussions between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
The term came from EU’s deputy chief negotiator, Sabine Weyand, who proposed the private talks following the public backlash of Theresa May’s proposals a year ago.
He told EU ambassadors at the time: “What we would really like to do is go into a tunnel and then come back to brief you about what happened just before the next European council.”
What happens after tunnel talks?
The timetable is likely to be extremely tight with the 31 October fast approaching.
On Monday Johnson is likely to present his proposal to parliament in a Queen’s speech.
There is then a European council summit due to take place on Thursday and Friday next week in Brussels, which could be key to getting a deal agreed as leaders gather.
The next day could prove to be pivotal, with Saturday 19 October the date that Johnson must formally seek an extension to Brexit’s current deadline of 31 October under the Benn Act if no deal has been passed or no deal approved.
Parliament will have its first Saturday sitting since the Falklands war as the Prime Minister looks to deliver on his promise to deliver Brexit by the end of the month.