Brexit: ‘Mood music’ positive for talks, Nicky Morgan says

The “mood music” on negotiations between the UK and the EU on a potential Brexit deal “seems positive”, the culture secretary has said.

Nicky Morgan reiterated that “lots of details” needed be to be worked out between both parties, after the EU had agreed to “intensify” talks.

On Thursday Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson said they could “see a pathway to a possible deal”.

The UK is due to leave the EU at 23:00 GMT on 31 October.

Ms Morgan told Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s no doubt that things do look promising.

“The mood music – as you say – seems positive, but clearly there are lots of details that need to be worked out, and strong views on all sides.”

She added that “speculation doesn’t really help” and politicians needed to “stand back and give those negotiations and discussions the best chance of succeeding”.

“Intense technical discussions” between the UK and the EU began on Saturday morning, after about a dozen British officials, including UK EU adviser David Frost, arrived in Brussels overnight.

Talks without a timetable

By Gavin Lee, BBC Europe reporter

Since 10.30 this morning, about a dozen members of the UK’s negotiating team have been inside the European Commission building in Brussels.

The talks are being led by the government’s EU envoy David Frost, with a similar number of European officials across the table.

There is no scheduled timetable – the talks will continue while both teams believe something is workable.

But neither side is publicly offering any detail yet on the apparent common ground that has been found to ensure there is no physical infrastructure on the Irish border.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, says there is only the slightest chance that they will ultimately agree upon a deal, with time practically up.

If there is to be white smoke signalling a breakthrough, then the first public announcement may be on Monday morning, after the EU’s 27 ambassadors have been updated on the progress so far.

Speaking in Cyprus on Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk said he had received “promising signals” from the Irish PM.

“Of course there is no guarantee of success and time is practically up, but even the slightest chance must be used,” he added.

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On Friday Mr Johnson said there was “a way to go” before a deal could be reached.

The prime minister put forward revised proposals for a deal last week, designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

He said there was not “a done deal”, adding: “The best thing we can do now is let our negotiators get on with it.”

Brexiteer Sir John Redwood believes the prime minister should “table a free trade agreement” which would “unlock” most of the issues around borders and immigration.

He added: “I think the border issue is greatly exaggerated, because it is in the interest of the European Union and Ireland to exaggerate it.”

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said: “Anything that traps Northern Ireland in the EU… will not have our support.”

Support from DUP MPs could be crucial to get a deal through Parliament.

Ms Morgan was asked on the Today programme about reports of Downing Street briefings that the Tories could contest a general election on a no-deal Brexit ticket, if an agreement cannot be reached.

The Loughborough MP – who voted Remain – did not say whether she would contest an election on such a ticket, but said reports that Mr Johnson is preparing to fight a general election on a no deal platform are “wide of the mark”.

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Timeline: What’s happening ahead of Brexit deadline?

Monday 14 October – The Commons is due to return, and the government will use the Queen’s Speech to set out its legislative agenda. The speech will then be debated by MPs throughout the week.

Thursday 17 October – Crucial two-day summit of EU leaders begins in Brussels. This is the last such meeting currently scheduled before the Brexit deadline.

Saturday 19 October – Special sitting of Parliament and the date by which the PM must ask the EU for another delay to Brexit under the Benn Act, if no Brexit deal has been approved by Parliament and they have not agreed to the UK leaving with no-deal.

Thursday 31 October – Date by which the UK is due to leave the EU, with or without a withdrawal agreement.

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