European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrives for a meeting of EU General Affairs ministers, Article 50, at the European Convention Center in Luxembourg, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is in Luxembourg on Tuesday to brief ministers on the state of play for Brexit. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The Latest: Brexit negotiators facing critical few hours

October 15, 2019 - 7:33 am

LUXEMBOURG (AP) — The Latest on Brexit (all times local):

1:30 p.m.

A French diplomatic official says France hopes that a divorce deal with Britain will be negotiated by Tuesday night.

The official acknowledged a "positive momentum" on Tuesday after a phone call between French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He said a divorce deal with Britain is possible, but not guaranteed, as Brexit negotiators were still having talks on Tuesday.

He said the bloc's members expect to have a clear idea later that day on whether a deal is on track or not. The official was speaking anonymously in line with the French presidency's customary practices.

EU leaders are meeting for a two-day summit in Brussels from Thursday. Brexit will top the agenda as Britain's Oct. 31 deadline to leave the bloc looms.

— by Sylvie Corbet

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12:35 p.m.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney says Brexit negotiators are facing a critical few hours to see if they can deliver a deal ahead of a summit of European Union leaders on Thursday.

He said that from the EU side, the belief is that "this is difficult, but it is doable."

He said the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, noted to EU ministers that there had been "progress in the last number of days" but that there will need to be "significant progress today" to secure a deal in time.

EU leaders begin their two-day summit on Thursday and want to avoid any negotiations about the precise details of any Brexit agreement.

There has been talk that there could be another emergency EU leaders' summit in the run-up to the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.

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11:55 a.m.

Britain's chief Brexit minister has made a last-minute trip to meet European Union colleagues and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has postponed a Cabinet meeting — signs that talks on an EU divorce deal are reaching a critical point.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay flew Tuesday to Luxembourg, where EU ministers are meeting with the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Barclay said as he arrived that talks needed "space to proceed." He said "detailed conversations are underway and a deal is still very possible."

Britain's weekly Cabinet meeting has been moved from Tuesday to Wednesday, so Johnson can give ministers a better idea of progress.

Few details have emerged about the substance of talks, which center on keeping an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland.

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31.

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11:10 a.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is likening the effort to break the Brexit deadlock to "squaring the circle," but is vowing to work until the last moment to secure an orderly British withdrawal from the European Union.

Merkel pointed to the difficulties of reconciling the U.K.'s desire to leave the EU customs union with the need to maintain an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

In a speech to German machinery makers, she said that "what they are trying to negotiate is something like squaring the circle, and it is very, very complicated."

She added that "we will work until the last minute for an orderly British withdrawal" but insisted that the EU is also prepared if no deal is reached.

Merkel said "one thing is clear already now." Britain, she said, will develop into "another competitor on Europe's doorstep and that will require the European Union even more strongly to be competitive and to take geopolitical responsibility."

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8:45 a.m.

The European Union's Brexit negotiator says a divorce deal with the United Kingdom is still possible this week but that the British government needs to come forward with a legal text.

Michel Barnier said ahead of a meeting with EU foreign ministers that the main challenge now is to turn British proposals on the complex issue of the border on the island of Ireland into something binding.

Barnier said it is "high time to turn good intentions into a legal text."

EU leaders are meeting for a two-day summit in Brussels from Thursday. Brexit will top the agenda as the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline looms.

"Even if an agreement will be difficult — more and more difficult, we think — it is still possible this week," Barnier said.

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Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

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