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Brexit talks enter crucial 'tunnel' phase, but gaps on substance remain

13 October 2019

The accelerated negotiations were agreed to by the EU27 after a "constructive meeting" between the bloc's chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay in Brussels today. "Whatever it takes, we will prevent a no-deal Brexit".

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

The pair are attempting to strike a deal before the proposed Brexit date of October 31.

"There is a joint feeling that there is a way forward, that we can see a pathway to a deal", he said.

The softer mood music after Mr Johnson's meeting with the Taoiseach followed an intensive few days which saw an acrimonious war of words explode and the talks appear close to collapse.

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'And, you know, if they can't then we have to be ready, as this country is and will be, to come out with no-deal if we absolutely have to'.

After a meeting in northwest England on Thursday Mr Johnson and Mr Varadkar said they had "agreed that they could see a pathway to a possible deal".

The Taoiseach said a deal was possible after more than two hours of talks but warned that "there's many a slip between cup and lip".

Following the briefing, representatives from the 27 member states gave Barnier the green light to "intensify" talks.

The talks had appeared to be on the verge of collapse earlier this week after the United Kingdom government briefed that brokering a deal was "essentially impossible", but were surprisingly revived following three hours of talks between United Kingdom premier Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Thursday.

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BREXIT negotiations will now enter the "tunnel" phase of intensive and secretive talks in a major boost for Boris Johnson's prospects of brokering a fresh deal.

Mr Barnier is due to brief European Union ambassadors and MEPs on Monday on progress.

The PM had promised the European Union to present a solution that would "satisfy the hardcore Brexiteers" while upholding the EU's demands to have no hard border on the island of Ireland, protect the Good Friday Agreement and ensure the integrity of the single market, Mr Tusk said.

With the British Parliament and government both rejecting the withdrawal treaty negotiated by Theresa May, and the European Union rejecting a rehash of the treaty with some alternative arrangements for the customs border between EU member-state the Republic of Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland put forward by Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom is now headed for a clean break with the bloc - or, if anti-Brexit MPs have their way, yet another Brexit delay.

Mr Barnier compared the UK's departure from the European Union to climbing a mountain, stressing the need for "determination and patience".

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"No, it can not work", Mr Dodds said, "because Northern Ireland has to remain fully part of the United Kingdom customs union".

Brexit talks enter crucial 'tunnel' phase, but gaps on substance remain