UK's upbeat Brexit progress report given short shrift by parliament

LONDON (Reuters) - An exit deal between Britain and the European Union is within sight, Brexit minister Dominic Raab told parliament on Tuesday, as lawmakers from all sides told him the current negotiating plan had little hope of winning their approval.

Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab arrives in Downing Street, London, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019 but has yet to secure an agreement to define future relations with Brussels and manage the economic impact of ending over four decades of integration with the world’s largest trading bloc.

Brussels has dismissed key elements of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy, formulated in July at her Chequers country retreat, and it has been widely criticised by both those who want a more radical break from the EU and those who want even closer ties.

Nevertheless, Raab was upbeat when delivering a summary of progress in the negotiations to parliament on its first day back after the summer break.

“We have made significant progress, we are making significant progress every week ... and a deal is within our sights,” he said.

However, other lawmakers were less positive, indicating that May’s minority government will struggle to find support for whatever deal it strikes with Brussels. May must win parliamentary approval on a deal, or risk leaving the EU without any formal agreement.

“Chequers is a dead as a dodo. The secretary of state (Raab) knows that and so does everyone else in this House,” said Tom Brake, a lawmaker from the Liberal Democrat party.

Raab said he disagreed, describing the negotiations as “positive”.

Earlier, May’s spokesman said Britain had to step up efforts to get a deal, describing talks as at a “crucial and intense phase”.

Nevertheless, with an October deadline for a deal expected to slip into November and little sign of breakthrough on fundamental disagreements with the EU, financial markets remain nervous about the possibility of Britain leaving without a deal.

A senior official at the Brexit ministry said he was confident that plans were in place for the possibility of a no-deal exit. Raab said that while ‘no deal’ was not what the government wants, there would be some “countervailing opportunities”.

But the main opposition Labour Party’s Brexit policy chief Keir Starmer said Raab had failed to reassure anyone, and that May’s Brexit negotiating strategy would not survive intact.

Editing by Stephen Addison