Britain and EU plan special summit to sign Brexit deal

People wave British and EU flags as they protests outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Sept 10, 2018.
People wave British and EU flags as they protests outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Sept 10, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Britain and the European Union are preparing for a special summit to sign the Brexit deal in November and the meeting could be announced within days, according to people familiar with the matter.

While negotiators still need to resolve key disagreements, the EU is readying to schedule a one-off gathering in mid-November so leaders can formally agree to the terms of the divorce, the person said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will make her case to her EU counterparts at an informal meeting in Salzburg next Wednesday, before the other 27 leaders discuss how to respond among themselves.

The plan for a special Brexit deal summit is likely to be unveiled during the course of the Salzburg gathering, two people said, with one suggesting the announcement could come even sooner.

Scheduling a summit to conclude the withdrawal negotiations would be a sign of growing confidence among the governments of Europe that an agreement on Britain's exit is close.

In recent days, the pound has risen on more positive news of the prospects for reaching a settlement, after falling during the summer over fears that the negotiations are at risk of breaking down.

Britain will leave the EU, with or without a deal, on March 29 next year.

The biggest obstacle still to be resolved in the talks is the question of how to avoid customs checks and police at the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, once Britain has left the bloc. This is seen as critical by both sides, but talks have been deadlocked for months.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has sounded more hopeful of resolving the issue, offering to be flexible in his approach to agreeing the so-called backstop plan to avoid a hard border.

Officials have detected some progress recently in talks on the backstop although the two sides remain far from finalising a plan, according to one person.

One of the people said the special Brexit summit was being lined up for the week of Nov 12.

On Monday, Barnier said he thought reaching an agreement on the terms of Britain's departure was "realistic" within the next six to eight weeks.

"I think it's possible" to get a deal by the start of November, Barnier said at a conference in Bled, Slovenia. "We are not far from agreement."

Once a deal is reached, it has to go to the British Parliament and the European Parliament for approval. British politicians inside May's governing Tory party, as well as in the opposition Labour Party, are preparing to sabotage the agreement.

"We are working on a deal which will be good for UK industry and we are confident we're going to achieve that," a spokesman for May's government said on Tuesday (Sept 11).