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UK optimistic an unloved Brexit deal will be negotiated by end-Nov

BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May has pleaded with MPs to be calm as she believes there is a good chance that a Brexit deal could be concluded by the end of November.

In a statement to Parliament, she said that the UK and European Union (EU) had agreed on 95 per cent of a Brexit deal. They were engaged in intense negotiations to close the final differences.

The key bugbear, which has caused wide divisions in the ruling Conservative Party, has been the Northern Ireland-Irish border question. Ian Duncan Smith, a Brexiteer and former Tory leader, is backing Mrs May. He has put forward some potential deal ideas to the UK government and has had discussions with Michel Barnier, chief EU negotiator.

In an editorial in the Daily Mail, the outspoken supporter of the Conservative Party and Brexit warned rebel Tory MPs that they should stop backstabbing Mrs May. A failure of the party to unite would bring in its wake an election and high risk of an ultra-left populist Labour government, the newspaper stated.

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International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC in New York that speculation about the Conservative leadership was "unhelpful". Some of the language that had been used about Mrs May was "dreadful".

He added that Tory MPs "need to give her the space to finish the negotiation", adding "it is very difficult to negotiate with the EU when you also have to negotiate with your own colleagues".

The PM had his "full support", said the leading Brexiteer, and "she is - and will be - the prime minister that leads us out of the European Union at the end of March 2019".

In a statement to the Commons on Monday, the prime minister said that "by far the best outcome" would be for a trade deal to be agreed between the UK and the EU in time for 2021. This is the date when the agreed 21-month implementation period after the March 2019 Brexit date ends. But she added that there could be an advantage to extend the limbo period to find ideal ways to keep the Northern Ireland and Irish border open.

The longer implementation when the UK is still in the EU single market and customs union, but without a vote, would also help businesses adjust to Brexit, Mrs May claimed.

John Redwood, a former Tory minister and long-standing Eurosceptic, said that a further delay was rash as more billions would have to be paid to the EU.

"We're desperately in need of more money for our schools, hospitals, universal credit and defence. All this is possible if we don't give all that money to the EU and all this would be even more possible if we don't pledge another £15 or £20 billion for some time," he said.

Mrs May responded that she did "not want" to extend the transition and saw it as "undesirable". But if she had to concede an extension, it would only be for a few months as it would still end "well before the end of this Parliament".

Mrs May urged the EU to do more to ensure that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remained open. She reiterated that she would not accept the EU's so-called "backstop" of Northern Ireland remaining in the EU customs union if the rest of the UK left. Such a move would lead to a break-up of the United Kingdom, she said.

Mrs May added that protecting the UK's integrity was so important that she had a duty to explore "every possible solution" in keeping the Irish border open and ensuring that there are no new barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The UK should be able to make a "sovereign choice" in December 2020 between extending the transition period for a short period or keeping the whole of the UK in a temporary, time-limited customs arrangement with the EU, she said.

Tim Stanley, a historian and columnist and leader writer for the Brexit-supporting Telegraph, was highly critical of Mrs May's proposals.

"It's not what the country needs, it's what she thinks she can get - and what we'll end up with is a Brexit shaped by both this woman's remarkable strength of will and her catastrophic lack of political vision," he wrote.

"Don't let her tell you there was no alternative. My preference was for the Norway option: tell the EU we're leaving, apply to join the European Economic Area, buy Britain time to negotiate a free trade deal in the future."