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Beyond the rhetoric, Britain, EU prepare to move forward on Brexit

Both sides are readying concessions as part of a constructive dialogue that could yet lead to a deal

Birmingham

" UNWORKABLE", "unacceptable", "impasse" - the words used to describe Brexit talks between Britain and the European Union do little to temper concerns that the two are heading for a chaotic divorce.

But behind the scenes, both sides are preparing concessions as part of what one British official called "a constructive dialogue" that could yet lead to a deal.

Officials and sources on both sides said that there is clear will to try to overcome the obstacles to winning a withdrawal deal and agreeing a framework for future ties - a Northern Ireland border and EU-UK trade deal.

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Details are scarce, but the EU is planning to start putting in writing its offer for future trade ties, a demand that Britain has pressed after officials felt that UK Prime Minister Theresa May was snubbed at talks in Austria last month.

Britain has also promised to bring a new proposal to unlock a stand-off over preventing the return to a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, possibly by compromising about regulatory controls on goods in exchange for Brussels embracing the use of technological fixes for customs checks.

With only six months to go before Britain leaves the bloc, the lack of clarity over the divorce has spooked markets by increasing the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, which both sides said they are working to avoid.

On Wednesday, Mrs May will give a speech to end a fractious annual conference of her Conservative Party, where Brexit rebels did much to undermine her stance of maintaining close ties with the EU.

On Thursday, Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar will be in Brussels for talks with the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Senior diplomats in Brussels have been summoned to a Brexit meeting on Friday, and Mr Barnier is due to present to them an initial draft of the bloc's trade proposal soon after, which the EU hopes would woo Britain into more compromises.

While no new dates have been confirmed for the next round of negotiations between Mr Barnier and British Brexit Minister Dominic Raab, several EU diplomats said that they expected them to take place in Brussels next week.

"It must be next week or it's too late to get anything done within our-six week schedule," one person said, referring to a plan of having a preliminary Brexit deal at the next EU leaders' summit on Oct18.

The remaining 27 EU states are due to host a summit on Nov 17-18 to sign off on any agreement with Britain. Otherwise, they would switch to contingency mode and focus on preparing for a no-deal Brexit in which Britain leaves next March with no agreements in place to mitigate the economic shock.

British officials have signalled that new ideas will come. A focus will be attempts to come to agreement over customs arrangements on the island of Ireland to prevent a return to a hard border that inflamed sectarian differences in the past.

Mr Raab welcomed Mr Barnier's suggestion that technology could be used to help resolve the issue after London said that it could not accept the bloc's proposal for Northern Ireland to effectively stay in the EU's customs union.

He also said that Britain was looking at how regulatory checks on some goods could be used as part of a solution to move forward Brexit talks, notably on a "backstop deal" for the Irish border.

London has indicated that it may consider options on regulations on the island of Ireland, noting that there are already some different rules for agriculture and food products between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. But it was not clear whether the government would tolerate such a difference for manufactured goods. REUTERS

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