By Andrew Woodcock and David Hughes, Press Association Political Staff
European leaders have been urged by the UK to compromise on their Brexit stance on the eve of a major summit.
Prime Minister Theresa May will use Wednesday’s gathering in Salzburg, Austria, to make a direct pitch to fellow leaders to back her divisive Chequers proposals.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said it was time for the “compromises” made by the UK to be “matched on the EU side”.
In a sign that Brexit talks could go to the wire, the European Union is preparing for a final deal to be struck at an emergency summit in November, rather than the scheduled October meeting previously targeted by both sides in the negotiations.
The deal has to be finalised well in advance of the UK’s March 29 2019 exit from the bloc so the parliaments in Westminster and Strasbourg can sign off on the agreement.
In Brussels, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was briefing ministers from EU governments on Tuesday on remaining issues in the divorce talks, including the Irish border, as well as the framework for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Arriving at the Brussels meeting, Brexit minister Lord Callanan said: “If we are to get a deal there has to be compromises from both sides and we look forward to seeing what the EU side has to say about this.”
The message echoed that from Mr Raab, who set out the UK’s position in an interview with journalists from newspapers across the EU.
Setting out the UK’s hopes, Mr Raab said the Salzburg meeting at which Mrs May is expected to briefly set out her position over dinner on Wednesday night before her 27 counterparts consider the situation in her absence on Thursday, would be “an important milestone” and “a stepping stone” to a deal.
But he made clear the UK was looking for further movement from the EU on the Irish border.
He branded Mr Barnier’s “backstop” proposals – which would see Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs area – unworkable, because they would create a border in the Irish Sea and fail to respect the constitutional integrity of the UK.
“What I’m not going to do is to say that I would refuse to entertain any further proposals that the EU comes up with but they’ve got to be respecting the equities that we’ve set out,” he told correspondents from European newspapers including Germany’s Die Welt, France’s Le Monde and the Irish Times.
In a high-profile Panorama interview on Monday, Mrs May framed the decision facing the country as a choice between her deal or no deal.
But with large numbers of Tory hard Brexiteers openly rejecting the Chequers plan, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said the scene was set for a second referendum.
Sir Vince told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think growing numbers of people – we are already seeing it from senior Labour people and a few Conservatives – will say that the only way forward is to take this back to the public and say: ‘Do you accept what Theresa May has negotiated or would you rather stay in the European Union?'”
A demonstration at the Labour conference in Liverpool on Sunday will add to pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to throw his weight behind calls for a second referendum.
But Mr Raab rejected talk of a second vote, saying: “Even if that’s what people want to do, it’s difficult to see how it could be done in time, and we wouldn’t facilitate it.”
European Council president Donald Tusk said he wanted to avoid the “catastrophe” of a no-deal Brexit.
In a letter to EU leaders he said they should discuss arrangements for the “final phase” of the Brexit talks “including the possibility of calling another European Council in November”.
He said the EU leaders should also reconfirm the need for a “legally operational backstop” on Ireland to avoid a hard border.
Mr Tusk added that leaders should work on “limiting the damage” caused by Brexit.
“Unfortunately, a no-deal scenario is still quite possible. But if we all act responsibly, we can avoid a catastrophe.”
Meanwhile a Government-commissioned report recommended that EU migrants should not be given any preferential treatment after Brexit.
The long-awaited study by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) also concluded that the post-Brexit immigration system should make it easier for higher-skilled workers to come to the country, while continuing to limit access for those in lower-skilled roles.
MAC chairman Professor Alan Manning said: “If – and this is not an MAC recommendation – immigration is not to be part of the negotiations with the EU and the UK is deciding its future migration system in isolation, we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens.”
The 132-page report assessed the impact of EEA migration on a number of areas including the labour market, productivity, public services and communities.
It found that migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment outcomes of the UK-born workforce, with more negative effects for the lower-skilled and more positive effects for the higher-skilled.
Existing evidence and analysis presented in the report suggests migration is not a “major determinate” of the wages of UK-born workers.
The MAC added that it found some evidence suggesting lower-skilled workers face a “negative impact” while higher-skilled workers benefit, but the magnitude of the impacts are “generally small”.
The report also said:
– Analysis suggests migration has increased house prices but the impact cannot be seen in isolation from other government policies
– Research commissioned by the Committee shows EEA migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits
– There is no evidence to suggest migrants are linked to any increases in crime, nor any evidence that migration has reduced the quality of healthcare or the educational attainment of UK-born children.
Prof Manning said: “The small overall impacts mean that EEA migration as a whole has had neither the large negative effects claimed by some nor the clear benefits claimed by others.”
The publication of the report marks a key moment as the Government attempts to draw up new immigration rules.
Earlier this month, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he would publish a white paper “soon” after the MAC’S findings are released.
Figures have sparked claims of a “Brexodus” since the referendum in 2016.
The latest statistics put estimated net EU migration – the balance between arrivals and departures – at around 87,000, the lowest level for more than five years.
However, overall net migration including from outside the EU remains almost three times the Government’s target of less than 100,000.