By Press Association
Boris Johnson faces a race against the clock to secure a Brexit deal and get Tory Eurosceptics and the DUP onside to back him.
The UK Prime Minister carried out a charm offensive in Downing Street on Tuesday evening as he held a series of talks with backbenchers and the leaders of the DUP.
Meanwhile, his negotiating team worked through the night as reports increased that a deal was nearing, with a solution said to be forthcoming on the Irish border.
Mr Johnson knows he must have members of the European Research Group (ERG), a band of hardline Tory Eurosceptics, on board or his deal has little chance of making it through a vote in the House of Commons.
It was his predecessor Theresa May’s failure to secure the ERG’s support that led to her Withdrawal Agreement being defeated three times.
It’s time to get Brexit done and get on with delivering on Britain’s priorities: safer streets, better hospitals and improved schools. But, despite a flurry of meetings at Number 10, there were reports that Mr Johnson’s exit terms were causing splits in the ERG.
Chair Steve Baker MP, speaking outside Downing Street, said he was “optimistic” that Mr Johnson’s team in Brussels would finalise a “tolerable deal that I will be able to vote for”.
Mark Francois said the meeting was “interesting” and added “there’ll be further chats to have”, while former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and anti-EU battler Sir Bill Cash MP also emerged from Downing Street.
But, in an interview with The Sun, former environment secretary Owen Paterson dubbed it “unacceptable” that Mr Johnson was reportedly preparing to agree to a border down the Irish Sea, creating custom checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The Guardian reported senior sources on both sides of the Channel saying that a draft treaty could be published on Wednesday morning after the UK agreed in principle there will be a customs border in the Irish Sea.
While still in office, Mrs May said such an arrangement could never be accepted by a British prime minister.
Mr Paterson said: “We await the full details of the new deal to see exactly how they address the objections to the dead Theresa May deal, but dual-tariff systems like this would be, as Priti Patel has said, unacceptable.”
The DUP, in a statement after their second audience with the PM in as many days, were also decidedly lukewarm on the mooted proposals.
Number 10 officials were privately playing down suggestions of a Brussels breakthrough and the PM’s decision to hold Cabinet in the late afternoon indicated that negotiators still require time to finalise a deal before Thursday’s crunch European Council summit.
Addressing journalists on Tuesday, the PM’s official spokesman said: “Talks remain constructive but there is more work still to do.”
A deal will need to be published, along with a legal text, if the EU27 are to consider ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement at their gathering this week, meaning the pressure is on to sign off on the draft agreement.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, warned Mr Johnson it was “high time to turn good intentions into legal text”.
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