Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has backtracked after suggesting that a deal with the EU could be agreed within three weeks, by November 21st.
Responding to a letter from Labour MP Hilary Benn, chair of the Commons’ Brexit select committee, Raab said he expected a deal to be signed and he would be “happy to give evidence” to MPs on it.
While the letter did not offer any fresh insight into the progress of negotiations, Raab said the UK and EU now “agree on the principle of a UK-wide customs backstop”, adding: “The end is now firmly in sight and, while obstacles remain, it cannot be beyond us to navigate them.
“We have resolved most of the issues and we are building up together what the future relationship should look like and making real progress.”
But within hours, Raab’s department appeared to row back on his claims, saying: “There is no set date for the negotiations to conclude.
“The 21st November was the date offered by the chair of the select committee for the Secretary of State to give evidence.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer was scathing about the change in tone.
He tweeted: “This must be one of the quickest u-turns in political history. @DominicRaab told MPs that a Brexit deal would be done by the end of November.
“Three hours later his own department was forced to correct the record. What a mess.”
Uncertainty persists with the Article 50 deadline looming in March, but Raab’s earlier comments raised the prospect that the UK could be just days away from publishing its long-awaited draft Brexit deal, with an EU summit expected to take place over November 17 and 18.
Prime Minister Theresa May will offer MPs a meaningful vote on the deal soon after.
She is attempting to secure an agreement based on her Chequers plan, which would include the UK entering into a customs arrangement, joint jurisdiction with the…