Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has said he is “confident that a deal is within our sights” while appearing before peers to discuss progress of the UK Government’s negotiations to leave the EU.
Mr Raab answered questions for almost two hours from members of the Lords EU Committee in Parliament over the UK’s exit from the European Union.
The Cabinet minister said he had quickly established a “good professional and personal rapport” with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier. But he later hinted the timing of the Brexit talks this autumn may change.
Mr Barnier told reporters in Berlin after a meeting with German foreign minister Heiko Maas: “We are prepared to offer Britain a partnership such as there never has been with any other third country.”
Addressing peers, Mr Raab said he would be in Brussels tomorrow ahead of meetings on Friday, adding: “I’m confident that a deal is within our sights. We’re bringing ambition, pragmatism, energy and if, and I expect it will be, and if it is matched, we get a deal.”
He added: “I think it is important as we enter the final phase of the negotiations in the lead up to the October council and the possibility that it may creep beyond that, we want to see some renewed energy.”
“We’re bringing the ambition and the substance of our white paper on the future relationship and also I think some pragmatism to try and go the extra mile to get the deal that I think is in both sides’ interests. We need that to be matched obviously, it’s a negotiation.”
Mr Raab struck a bullish tone during his exchanges with peers, who aired their concerns and sought greater detail on issues including the Northern Ireland border issue, the proposed new facilitated customs arrangement, the current state of talks, plus preparations for a no-deal scenario.
Labour peer Lord Liddle said: “We’re begging for this, because without it we know we will suffer grave industrial consequences.”
Mr Raab responded: “That’s hyperbole. We don’t beg and I certainly don’t beg.”
The Brexit Secretary also hinted that on the financial settlement, a no-deal scenario could affect arrangements over payments to the EU.
After a mobile phone sounded in the committee room, Mr Raab joked: “It’s probably someone from Brussels trying to check in on the money.”
He added: “The financial settlement, as it’s calibrated in the withdrawal agreement, reflects a whole range of considerations not just the strict legal obligations and if we left with no deal then not only would there be a question around quite what the shape of those financial obligations were as a matter of strict law, but secondly on the timing.”
“Remember that the timing of payments is actually – we overlook it on our side – rather important on the EU side because of the way money is distributed, but… I don’t think it could be safely assumed on anyone’s side that the financial settlement as has been agreed by the withdrawal agreement would then just be paid in precisely the same shape or speed or rate if there was no deal.”
“As I said that would be a peculiar position for the UK to take because we view the package as a whole.”
On a possible no deal scenario, Mr Raab said: “It wouldn’t be a walk in the park but it wouldn’t be the end of the world… My focus as I hope you will see is that overridingly on intensifying the negotiations because we want a strong deal, because we want a good outcome….So really with the no deal scenario as difficult as it is to anticipate what precisely could be the trigger for it there’s a range of possibilities and we’ll be ready for all of them.”
Mr Raab would not be drawn on the percentage risk of a no deal, but he added: “I’m stubbornly optimistic.”
Speaking about the Northern Ireland border, Mr Raab said: “What I can say is we’re both committed to a solution and there is a lot of interesting, innovative technical work to make sure we resolve it.”
He added: “We’re not going to see a customs border drawn down the Irish Sea.”
“We’re not going to do anything which would imperil the Belfast Agreement. We want to make sure, in a positive sense, that the solution works for the communities on both sides.”
Mr Raab expressed confidence in the City post-Brexit, adding: “I think ultimately if we ended up with some of the worst case scenario outcomes that some people have suggested, so that the EU would take this as an opportunity and, by the way I don’t believe this, to try and either hive-off large areas of the work that’s done in London or punish the City, I think the only winners would be the other global centres in the top 10 like Tokyo and New York.”