“The end is now firmly in sight and, while obstacles remain, it cannot be beyond us to navigate them,” the EU Brexit Secretary said.
His optimistic remarks raised hopes that the two sides are close to breaking the deadlock in the stalled Brussels talks. And the value of the pound strengthened after his remarks were reported.
But officials admitted many issues needed to be resolved and insisted ministers wanted to inject urgency into the talks after months of foot dragging by Brussels.
One Whitehall insider said: “There’s plenty of stuff still to do.”
Mr Raab’s indication of a possible date came in an October 24 letter to the Commons Exiting the EU Committee which was released last night. In the letter, Mr Raab said he expected to be in a position to give details about a possible deal by the November date.
“I would be happy to give evidence to the committee when a deal is finalised, and currently expect 21 November to be suitable,” he said.
Downing Street sought to dampen expectations of an imminent deal last night. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We want to get a deal as soon as possible and that is what we are working to complete.”
Mr Raab’s signal came as talks continued yesterday to find a breakthrough in the row over the future of the Northern Ireland border.
Civil servant Oliver Robbins, the Government’s chief EU envoy, was holding discussions with his EU counterpart Sabine Weyand in Brussels. European ambassadors expected to be updated on progress last night.
EU officials were understood to be expecting a decision to be taken within days on whether to hold a special EU summit this month to conclude a draft deal.
A Whitehall source close to Mr Raab said achieving a deal by November 21 was an “ambition” rather than a definite expectation, saying: “There has not been some tectonic shift in the last few days.”
In his letter, Mr Raab struck an optimistic note on the chances for a deal. He wrote: “Despite our differences, we are not far from an agreement on this issue.
“We agree on the principle of a UK-wide customs backstop. An agreement on the details of that backstop should be possible.
“Both sides agree that this backstop cannot provide for a permanent UK/EU relationship and are committed to a future relationship that works for the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
“We are open to talking about ways to achieve this and committed to continuing discussions in order to reach an agreement.
The end is now firmly in sight
“The end is now firmly in sight and, while obstacles remain, it cannot be beyond us to navigate them.
“We now need to acknowledge the progress that has been made and now work rapidly through the remaining issues and come to an agreement that works for both sides.”
In reply to Mr Raab’s letter, Labour MP and Exiting the EU Committee chairman Hilary Benn expressed disappointment at the Brexit Secretary’s failure to follow the pattern of regular appearances established by his predecessor David Davis. He also rejected Mr Raab’s proposal to update the committee by letter until the deal was agreed as “not sufficient or effective”.
He said: “You will know that this is not how committees undertake inquiries and is not conducive to scrutiny.”
With EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier meeting European Parliament officials “almost daily”, the Government was failing to live up to Mr Davis’s promise to match Mr Barnier for openness, Mr Benn said.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said a deal by November 21 was “possible” but required more movement from the UK.
“It is up to the British side in particular to intensify negotiations towards a deal,” he said.
In a series of exchanges with MPs in the Commons yesterday, Theresa May insisted the Government was dedicated to getting “a good deal” for the UK in the Brexit negotiations.
After the rally by the pound last night, Hamish Muress, a currency analyst at financial firm OFX, said: “No Halloween scares today. Instead we finally have a concrete date from Raab regarding a Brexit deal being finalised, and the pound has jumped in response.”
A Department for Exiting the EU spokesman said last night: “There is no set date for the negotiations to conclude.
“The 21st November was the date offered by the chair of the Select Committee for the Secretary of State to give evidence.”