Downing Street is braced for another week of Brexit battles as it faces flashpoints with both Brussels and hardline Tory MPs in the UK.
Despite key EU leaders sounding more upbeat at the prospects of a deal in recent days, Brussels appears set to reject key aspects of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers proposals on Wednesday.
However, it was reported that Mrs May hopes to break the deadlock over the Irish border issue by keeping the EU’s present customs arrangements beyond when the transition period is due to end in December 2020.
Anti-EU Tory MPs have made it clear to the PM that this option could last no longer than the slated general election in 2022, according to The Times.
This comes after optimistic noises from the EU that a deal could be completed within weeks, with Tánaiste Simon Coveney insisting that both sides were 90% there.
Brexiteers opposed to Mrs May’s withdrawal proposals were buoyed by Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe saying he would welcome the UK into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc “with open arms” in the future.
Such a move would need the UK to be outside the EU customs union and able to set its own tariffs.
Leading Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith have increased pressure on the PM by signalling they are prepared to soften their stance by accepting EU officials being stationed at UK ports post-Brexit in a bid to sink the Chequers plan.
Time is running out for London and Brussels to strike a deal as EU leaders insist substantive progress must have been made by a leaders’ summit on October 17 for the bloc to agree a further Brexit gathering in November.
In the run-up to the summit, Brussels is expected to release a draft policy paper on Brexit this week.
EU leaders have already expressed concern at prime features of the Chequers plan such as the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU.
Tory hardline Brexiteers want a much looser association with the EU than envisaged by Chequers, one that would be close to a wider-ranging version of the free trade deal Brussels has agreed with Canada.