UK Brexit chief says he expects talks to go down to the wire

October 25, 2017

FILE - A Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 file photo of British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, addressing a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels. Britain's Brexit minister says he expects negotiations with the European Union won't end until the last moment before the U.K. officially leaves the bloc in March 2019. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys, File)

LONDON (AP) — Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union may not end until the last moment before the U.K. officially leaves the bloc in March 2019, Britain’s minister for leaving the EU said Wednesday.

The comments by Brexit Secretary David Davis drew an angry reaction from British lawmakers, who have been promised a vote on any deal struck between Britain and the bloc on their divorce.

Davis suggested that if a deal is made at the last minute, such a vote might come after Britain has already left the EU.

“Well, it can’t come before we have the deal,” he told a Parliament’s Exiting the EU Committee.

He said the EU tends to make decisions “at the 59th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day and so on, and that is precisely what I would expect to happen.”

The EU has said in practice the negotiations will have to be finished months sooner, by the fall of 2018, to give the European Parliament and the bloc’s 27 national parliaments enough time to approve it by March 2019.

Britain’s Department for Exiting the European Union later appeared to contradict Davis, saying Britain hoped to reach agreement on a deal “in good time” and was aiming for October 2018.

“Once the deal is agreed, we will meet our long-standing commitment to a vote in both Houses (of Parliament) and we expect and intend this to be before the vote in the European Parliament and therefore before we leave,” the department said in a statement.

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May also reassured lawmakers, saying she was confident “that we will be able to achieve that agreement and that negotiation in time for this Parliament to have the vote that we committed to.”

Negotiations between Britain and the EU have stalled over divorce terms, including the size of the bill Britain must pay to settle its commitments to the bloc.

The U.K. is keen to start talking about future relations, a step the EU may agree to take in December.

Many U.K. businesses fear the consequences if Britain doesn’t strike a deal by the March 2019 deadline and crashes out of the EU single market and customs union.

Update hourly