The Latest: Customs, VAT issues seen holding up Brexit deal

U.S. & World

Anti-Brexit remain in the European Union supporters protest across the street from the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. A Brexit divorce deal is still possible ahead of Thursday’s European Union summit but the British government needs to move ahead with more compromises to seal an agreement in the next few hours, the bloc said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The latest on Brexit (all times local):

10:50 p.m.

The European Parliament’s chief Brexit official says that over the coming hours in the run-up to the EU summit “there are possibilities for an agreement, but it is not done.” He says customs and VAT matters are the remaining big issues to resolve.

Guy Verhofstadt on Wednesday praised the “fundamental shift” of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the past week of intense negotiations. He said earlier British proposals “were absolutely unacceptable.”

But Verhofstadt cautions that despite the progress over the past days, there are “still outstanding issues” that must worked out.

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9:15 p.m.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says Brexit talks with the UK are making “good progress” as both sides try to finalize a last-minute deal ahead of a meeting of EU leaders.

Barnier spoke briefly to reporters as he arrived at the European Parliament on Wednesday evening to brief members of the EU’s Brexit Steering Group.

He said: “Good progress, and work is ongoing.”

EU leaders will gather Thursday at a two-day summit in Brussels with hopes they can finally agree on a Brexit deal. The UK is set to leave the bloc on Oct. 31.

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8:45 p.m.

Ireland’s president says it’s paramount that any Brexit deal safeguards the Good Friday agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

Michael Higgins says his country’s good relations with Britain will “prevail.”

He added Wednesday that a Brexit agreement should ensure that economic activity and trade carries on with minimum disruption given that Ireland-U.K. trade amounts to 4.5 billion euros ($4.96 billion) “in each direction.”

He said it’s estimated that a no-deal Brexit would shrink Ireland’s gross domestic product by 8%, primarily impacting the agribusiness sector since nearly half of Irish beef goes through Britain. He said Brexit with an agreement would result in a GDP drop of 4%.

Higgins spoke at the end of an official visit to Cyprus.

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7:20 p.m.

The leaders of the two biggest European Union nations are convinced the Brexit negotiations are in their final stages and that a deal is ready to be adopted by EU leaders on Thursday.

At a joint press conference in Toulouse, France, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “We have the hope and willingness to adopt an agreement” at the two-day summit with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “What we heard today is positive.”

Standing beside Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed her hopes a deal could be finalized in the next hours, saying “we are in the final stretch.”

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6:55 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he hopes that a Brexit deal is being finalized among negotiators in Brussels.

Macron said in Toulouse, France, that “I want to believe that a deal is being finalized and that we can approve it tomorrow (Thursday),” when EU leaders are meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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6:40 p.m.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman says a motion is being filed that would clear the way for a rare Saturday sitting of both houses of Parliament.

James Slack says “It simply sets out the intention for Parliament to sit on Saturday.”

If the motion is passed, the House of Commons and the House of Lords would sit from 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

A Saturday sitting would give lawmakers the chance to debate a Brexit deal if one emerges from negotiations ahead of the European Union leaders’ summit, which starts Thursday in Brussels.

Parliament has not sat on Saturday since the Falklands War of 1982.

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6:25 p.m.

Boris Johnson has likened Brexit to climbing Everest, telling his fellow Conservative Party lawmakers that Britain is approaching the top.

According to legislators who attended a meeting Wednesday with the British prime minister in Parliament, Johnson said “the summit is in sight, but it is shrouded in cloud. But we can get there.”

Legislator Bim Afolami, who was at the meeting, said Johnson expressed optimism but gave few details of the ongoing Brexit talks with the European Union. He spoke to lawmakers for just 10 minutes before dashing back to his 10 Downing St. office in London.

U.K. and EU officials have been locked in talks in hopes of securing a deal before an EU summit that starts Thursday in Brussels. But there remain unresolved issues around how to keep an open Irish border after Britain leaves the bloc, which is now scheduled to happen on Oct. 31.

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5:30 p.m.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told his Cabinet there has been no breakthrough yet in last-minute Brexit negotiations with the European Union.

Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, says the prime minister briefed colleagues Wednesday that there are still “a number of outstanding issues.”

But he said there is “a chance of securing a good deal” at an EU summit that starts Thursday.

Outstanding issues center on finding a way to keep an open Irish border after the U.K. leaves the 28-nation bloc.

Slack said Johnson would hold more meetings with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose support is key to getting a deal approved by Parliament.

Johnson wants to secure a deal at the summit, then put it to lawmakers in a special session of Parliament on Saturday.

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5:00 p.m.

The British pound has had a wild day, swinging sharply on conflicting reports about the Brexit discussions in Brussels.

Hopes that a Brexit deal will be secured sent the currency surging, while anything that sounded cautious on that prospect sent it into reverse — even within the space of a few minutes.

Over the day it has traded in a range from $1.2660 to the five-month high of $1.2840.

With the outcome of the discussions still unclear by late afternoon on Wednesday in Europe, it was up 0.1% on the day at $1.2800.

Even if a deal is agreed upon, the pound will remain exposed to developments in Brexit, not least whether the British Parliament would approve the agreement.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said “a lot can still go wrong in the coming days.”

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4:30 p.m.

European Council President Donald Tusk says that “theoretically” everything should be clear on the issue of Brexit in the coming hours.

Tusk made his comments on Wednesday speaking to two broadcasters from his native Poland.

According to the news agency PAP, Tusk told TVN24 and Polsat News: “theoretically in seven to eight hours everything should be clear on the issue of Brexit; negotiations are going on. Everything is moving in a good direction, but with our British partners everything is possible.”

European Union and British negotiators failed to get a breakthrough in the Brexit talks during an all-night session and continued on Wednesday to seek a compromise before a crucial EU summit on Thursday.

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1:50 p.m.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to meet again with members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to discuss his Brexit plan.

Johnson’s spokesman James Slack says the prime minister will meet the DUP “in the next few hours.”

It would be the third such meeting in as many days as the border between European Union member state Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, proves a continuing sticking point in negotiations on an EU-UK divorce deal.

Johnson needs the support of the DUP to win parliamentary approval for any Brexit deal.

Slack said “I would certainly expect there to be ongoing dialogue between the prime minister, the prime minister’s team and the DUP throughout the course of today.”

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12:35 p.m.

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator says talks between the EU and Britain on the country’s departure from the bloc are continuing after running through the night but that obstacles remain.

Michel Barnier briefed members of the European Commission — which is supervising the negotiations — on the latest developments and is set to update key EU lawmakers later Wednesday.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who was at the briefing, says that “talks have been constructive but there still remains a number of significant issues to resolve.”

The aim is to secure a legally watertight agreement on a new divorce deal before a crunch two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels starting Thursday.

Britain is set to leave the EU on Oct. 31.

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12:25 p.m.

As Brexit negotiations continue, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar says there is a pathway to a deal “but there are many issues that still need to be resolved.”

Varadkar, who spoke by phone Wednesday morning to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the European Commission, says he hopes the issues can be resolved in the course of the day.

That would allow European Union leaders to consider them at a two-day summit starting Thursday in Brussels, which would clear the way for a vote by British lawmakers at a special sitting of Parliament scheduled for Saturday.

However, Varadkar says that even if that does not happen, the Oct. 31 deadline for the UK to leave the EU “is still a few weeks away and there is a possibility of another summit before that if we need one.”

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12:20 p.m.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has told a parliamentary committee that the British government plans to comply with the law as it enters a delicate phase in the Brexit process.

Barclay told the Exiting the European Union Committee Wednesday that the government headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson will comply with “undertakings given to the court in respect of the law.”

He was apparently referring to the government’s commitment in a Scottish court to follow a law requiring Johnson to seek a Brexit extension from the European Union if no agreement is approved by Saturday.

Barclay maintained, however, that the government is still committed to leaving the EU by Oct. 31.

He did not explain how this would be possible given the law’s intent to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit.

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10 a.m.

The British government says talks with the European Union are making progress, despite the lack of a breakthrough overnight.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office says talks are resuming Wednesday after a “constructive” session that lasted late into the night in Brussels.

Johnson is eager to strike a deal at an EU summit starting Thursday so the U.K. can leave the bloc in good order on the scheduled date of Oct. 31.

But both sides say gaps remain over plans for maintaining an open Irish border.

Even if there is a deal, it must be passed by Britain’s Parliament, which rejected — three times — the agreement struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

Pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker David Davis said Wednesday that success rests on the stance of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, the ally of Johnson’s Conservative government. He said that “if the DUP says ‘this is intolerable to us’ that will be quite important.”

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7:10 a.m.

European Union and British negotiators have failed to get a breakthrough in the Brexit talks during a frantic all-night session and will continue seeking a compromise on the eve of Thursday’s crucial EU summit.

An EU official, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations were still ongoing, says “discussions continued until late in the night and will continue today.”

Both sides were hoping that after more than three years of false starts and sudden reversals, a clean divorce deal for Britain leaving the bloc might be sketched out within the coming hours.

Thursday’s EU leaders’ summit comes just two weeks before the U.K’s scheduled departure date of Oct. 31.

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Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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