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‘New sense of optimism’ in Brexit talks, says Theresa May


Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on October 25, 2017 ahead of the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons. / AFP PHOTO / CHRIS J RATCLIFFE

British Prime Minister Theresa May will tell lawmakers Monday there is a “new sense of optimism” around Brexit talks, despite a spat with Ireland over last week’s interim deal with the EU.

Updating parliament on the agreement, which will allow talks on Britain’s withdrawal to move onto trade, May will say there was “give and take” on both sides.

“Of course, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. But there is, I believe, a new sense of optimism now in the talks,” she will tell MPs, according to details of her statement released by her office.

Before her statement in the House of Commons, May chaired a meeting of her cabinet ministers, many of whom are divided on the shape of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Some have viewed the agreement struck last week as a move towards a softer break with Brussels.

It holds out the prospect of Britain remaining aligned with some of the rules of the EU’s single market and customs union — which May has pledged to leave — if no new bilateral trade deal is reached.

“This is not about a hard or a soft Brexit,” she will tell MPs.

“The arrangements we have agreed to reach the second phase of the talks are entirely consistent with the principles and objectives that I set out in my speeches in Florence (in September) and at Lancaster House (in January).”

Friday’s deal set out Britain’s financial settlement and the rights of expatriates, including the role of the European Court of Justice — two issues of concern to eurosceptics.

It also made guarantees to avoid the return of customs checks on Ireland’s border with the British province of Northern Ireland.

– Lingering uncertainty –
There was lingering uncertainty about the details of Friday’s agreement, however.

Brexit Secretary David Davis risked angering Dublin on Sunday by appearing to suggest the Irish border deal was “more a statement of intent than it was a legally enforceable thing”.

Joe McHugh, the Irish government’s chief whip, said it would be “bizarre” to agree a deal and not uphold it, saying: “This, as far as we’re concerned, is a binding agreement.”

Davis said Monday that his words had been “twisted”, and that “of course it’s legally enforceable” — but repeated that if there was no final agreement with Brussels on trade, then there would be no deal on anything.

However, he told LBC radio: “We would still be seeking to provide a frictionless invisible border with Ireland.”

Under the proposed agreement, which must be signed off by EU leaders at a summit later this week, Britain will pay between £35 billion and £39 billion (40-45 billion euros, $47-52 billion) to the bloc after leaving in March 2019.

It also sets out how EU citizens living in Britain and its citizens living in the EU — as well as their families — will be able to claim permanent residency status and the right to work and receive benefits.

Leading Brexit supporter Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative party leader, said Monday the agreement was “not ideal” but “simply gets us through the first round”.

In an article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, he wrote: “Most importantly, though, all of this can be torn up tomorrow because ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.”

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