Boris Johnson has been told he has until midnight to strike a Brexit deal with Brussels if he wants it to be signed off by EU leaders at this week’s summit.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, this morning said reaching an agreement this week was “possible”.
However Number 10 declined to recognise the deadline, with the PM’s official spokesperson saying: “We are working hard. The prime minister is aware of the time constraints that we are under.
“We want to make progress towards securing a deal as soon as possible and we want to make progress ahead of the EU council on Thursday.”
According to Reuters, Barnier told ministers from the other EU27 states at a meeting in Luxembourg the UK proposal was not yet good enough.
Barnier is reported to have said a legal text is needed by the end of Tuesday for a deal to be signed at the EU Council summit which begins on Thursday.
The two-day meeting of EU leaders is crucial because the PM must get a new deal approved by the Commons by Saturday if he wants to avoid having to ask for Brexit to be delayed.
Didier Reynders, the deputy prime minister of Belgium, told reporters if an agreement was reached “tonight” it would be possible for the Council to sign it off.
“But it’s not easy. We have some red lines. They are well known by all the partners,” he warned.
There are just 16 days to go until the current October 31 exit date, which Johnson has pledged to meet “do or die”.
But the Benn Act passed by MPs opposed to a no-deal, including Tory rebels, says the PM must ask for an extension to Article 50 if MPs do not back a deal by this Saturday.
If a deal is not signed off by the EU this week then talks could continue next week with an emergency summit being held to rubber stamp any agreement.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said today talks were “constructive but a lot of work remains to be done”.
“We are working towards the European Council which is on Thursday, as you know, so in that respect every day and every hour counts,” she said.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, said this morning he believes the “votes are now there” for Johnson’s deal.
A Cabinet briefing on Brexit due today was postponed by Johnson as negotiators continue talks in Brussels.
The backbench group of Tory Brexiteers, the European Research Group, met in parliament on Tuesday night as a deal neared.
Steve Baker, the chairman of the group, most of whom voted against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, told HuffPost UK after the meeting: “I absolutely can rely on Boris Johnson to take us out of the European Union.