Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has revealed 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.”
It means, with the Article 50 deadline looming in March, the UK could be just days away from publishing its long-awaited draft Brexit deal. Prime Minister Theresa May will offer MPs a meaningful vote on the deal soon after.
May 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 European Court of Justice and a so-called “common rule book” on goods.
The PM had previously told the Commons that a deal was “95% done” but conceded that the “sticking point” had been a backstop on the Northern Irish border, with May underlining that she would not back down and back an arrangement which would draw a customs line down the Irish Sea.
The development sets the scene for a showdown in the Commons over whether MPs will back a Chequers-style plan.
Backbench Brexiteers are adamant they will rebel should the deal tie Britain into a customs union indefinitely.
But it is unclear how many Labour MPs will be prepared to support May should they fear that the true alternative is the UK crashing out without any deal whatsoever.
The Labour frontbench, meanwhile, say the party to vote down the deal and push for a general election, saying the agreement will not pass their “six tests” and could place jobs and the economy at risk.
If the Opposition fails to secure a fresh UK poll, however, Jeremy Corbyn may demand a re-run of the Brexit referendum.