Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, on Monday said a deal for the UK's formal exit from the European Union could be completed within the next eight weeks.
"I think that if we are realistic, we are able to reach an agreement on the first of this negotiation, which is the Brexit treaty, within six or eight weeks," Barnier told a conference in Slovenia.
He said it was imperative that an agreement be reached "before the beginning of November" to give EU parliaments a chance to ratify the deal.
The announcement triggered a jump in the British pound, hitting a five-week high against the US dollar at $1.31, while rising 0.5 percent against the euro to €1.12.
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'Deal in October'
British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesperson said her government was "focused on securing a deal in October."
"You have seen over the summer I think an intensification in the talks — that is obviously something which we called for — and you have seen progress continuing to be made in relation to that withdrawal agreement," May's spokesperson said.
On March 29, 2019, the UK will formally leave the EU unless an agreement is made to extend the date for negotiating a Brexit accord. However, that appears less likely due to EU and British officials' statements.
But EU negotiators have warned that roadblocks remain, including the question of a hard border separating EU member state Ireland and the UK's Northern Ireland, which some say could undermine peace on the island.
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Barnier's remark on Monday are likely to give May some reprieve as she faces growing dissent from fellow Conservative lawmakers.
Former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who quit his post in July over May's proposed divorce deal, said May should follow US President Donald Trump's lead and commit to rejecting new taxes in the wake of Brexit.
"Now is the time for this Conservative government to show how a post-Brexit Britain will be a happy and dynamic economy," said Johnson in a column for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
According to conservative-leaning publications in the UK, Johnson is preparing for an attempt on May's leadership.
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ls/rc (Reuters, AFP)
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