Theresa May claims that Britain is nearing a Brexit divorce deal and believes that a compromise can be reached with the European Union on the Irish border issue.
According to a statement from her spokesperson, the PM told Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that "95% of the Withdrawal Agreement was now complete" and that "she was confident that a solution could be found on the Northern Ireland backstop." The New Statesman defines the so-called backstop as "an insurance policy that there will never be a hard border on the island of Ireland."
Meanwhile, the Times reported on Tuesday that the EU is looking to back a compromise proposal on the Irish border, citing unnamed senior EU sources. The alleged solution is an "independent mechanism" that would give Britain the right to end a temporary customs agreement with the EU.
On Monday, Britain and Ireland signaled progress in talks over post-Brexit customs arrangements. Irish Prime Minister Varadkar told May that he was open to a "review" mechanism for the backstop on condition that the UK cannot scrap it unilaterally.
"The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) indicated an openness to consider proposals for a review, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop," the Irish government said in a statement. "He recalled the prior commitments made that the backstop must apply ‘unless and until' alternative arrangements are agreed upon.
This comes on the heels of reports in the UK media that Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab had called on UK Prime Minister Theresa May to push for a backstop agreement that would include a break clause, under which Britain would have the right to pull out of an Irish border "backstop" pact after three months.
While less than five months remain until Britain's scheduled departure from the European Union, a deal has yet to be reached on EU-UK trade relations and customs arrangements after Brexit. The key stumbling block in the negotiations is the Irish border issue. Brussels has proposed to keep Northern Ireland, part of the UK, in its customs union and single market, which would mean physical checks on goods sent to or from the UK. As May's government is a coalition between her Conservative Party and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, any such agreement would jeopardize her leadership.
Theresa May has repeatedly rejected the European Union's push, claiming that the bloc retaining regulatory authority with respect to trade over Norther Ireland would inevitably hurt trade relations between the region and the rest of the UK. Instead, she has recently proposed to keep all of the UK in a customs union with the EU, which sought to avoid a hard border in the Irish Sea. This met with fierce opposition within her own party, as opponents saw it as the worst of all possible worlds.
The European Union and the United Kingdom are set to resolve the remaining Brexit issues at a special EU summit on November 17. The summit should determine whether the sides are ready to sign a draft of the UK's exit bill, or whether there will be no deal at all.
The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29 next year. A transition period, which will see the UK follow the EU trade rules to smooth the path for future trade relations, will last until the end of 2020. However, the EU has recently floated the idea of extending the transition phase beyond the December, 2020 deadline over insufficient progress in talks with London.