Dominic Raab travelled to Northern Ireland today as a Brexit deal hinges upon a resolution to the question of how to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The Brexit secretary has said that he hopes to strike an agreement with the EU on the terms of the UK’s departure from the bloc within three weeks – by 21 November.
While Downing Street did not endorse Raab’s timeline, Prime Minister Theresa May has proposed that the UK as a whole remain part of the EU’s customs union until a permanent solution can be found to the Irish conundrum.
Doing so would appease the Tories’ parliament allies, the DUP, by preventing a regulatory and customs border from being enforced in the Irish sea.
But Brexiters have opposed such an idea, which would tie the UK to EU rules on goods and agri-foods.
However, the pound rose on reports that a Brexit deal is coming soon, hitting 1.30 against the dollar this morning as the Ireland question remains the major obstacle to an overall agreement, which both sides have said is almost over the line.
Raab’s visit to Northern Ireland to meet business groups came as the UK appeared close to agreeing a deal for financial services access between the UK and EU after Brexit.
Reports such a deal, reportedly based on EU equivalency rules, was on the verge of being signed were dismissed by the Prime Minister yesterday.
However, The Times, which broke the story, stuck to its sources, insisting a deal is on the horizon.