Brexit negotiators need to “lock themselves into a room” for the next two weeks to hammer out a deal, Ireland’s deputy prime minister has insisted.
Simon Coveney made the remarks as a Brexit breakthrough was being talked-up, with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker expressing optimism.
As talks reached a frantic final phase, Coveney said the EU must see rapid progress on issues like the Irish border in the run-up to a looming heads of government summit to keep plans for an orderly UK withdrawal agreement on track.
Coveney told the Press Association: “It is now time for the UK and EU’s talented negotiators to lock themselves into a room and complete the withdrawal agreement over the next two weeks.
“The EU Summit of October 17/18 must hear of progress for a special summit to be called in November.
“The Irish and EU position has not changed and the UK must deliver on its written commitments of last December and March. That is a backstop that guarantees no hard border in Ireland or related checks or infrastructure.
“We don’t want the backstop to ever be used, instead we want a close future trading relationship with the UK negotiated over the transition period of a managed Brexit.
“We believe this can be done and it is the responsibility of politicians to give the final push for a deal.”
The comments came as Juncker struck an unusually positive note when asked if a deal could be made, telling Austrian media: “I have reason to think that the rapprochement potential between both sides has increased in recent days.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan said Tory MPs seeking to oust the Prime Minister over Brexit represented a fringe element.
Warning against a move to replace the PM, Sir Alan told the BBC: “Don’t believe all those things you read in the newspapers and take it that there are a lot of numbers behind the noise.
“And that’s where you need to apply a lot of political judgment to work out whether the complainers are just a fringe, or whether they represent the main body of opinion in the middle.
“The main body of opinion in the middle and right to the edges is absolutely solidly behind her.
“Because the idea that we can go for anybody else at the moment is just folly.
“It would lead to collapse and disarray. It’s not a credible option.”
And prominent pro-Europe Labour MP Chris Bryant insisted he had not been involved in talks with the Government on backing a deal after reports Downing Street had launched a “charm offensive” to try and win opposition support for Mrs May’s stance.