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'The moment of truth' – a guide to Brexit's biggest week

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
A UK flag next to the EU flag at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels (Getty)

The “moment of truth” for Brexit has arrived. Despite 15 months of negotiations, the future of the UK rests on what happens in Brussels over the next five days.

Here’s our guide to the biggest week for Brexit so far.


Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is in Luxembourg for the EU’s foreign affairs council. While Brexit is not officially on the agenda, Hunt will use it as a chance to whisper in the ears of his EU counterparts.

He’s also doing his bit to try and find agreement on the Irish ‘backstop’ – the last remaining major area of disagreement – by meeting Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney.

Monday is most notable though for what is not happening. A meeting of ‘sherpas’ – representatives of the heads of state of each EU member state – was meant to be taking place. In the best-case scenario, they would have given their blessing to a draft deal in order for it to be ratified without fuss later in the week.

However, the meeting was cancelled shortly after EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier met Brexit secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday because not enough progress towards a deal was made.


EU European affairs ministers will meet in Luxembourg to receive a briefing on the state of play in Brexit negotiations from Barnier.

This was meant to be another formality in the process of signing-off a deal but now looks like it could be the stage for a significant debate.

Each minister usually makes a statement before and after the meeting and the tone of their comments will reflect the position that the country is likely to take at the big meeting of the week – the European Council.


EU heads of state will arrive in Brussels for the summit at which Barnier has said “decisive progress” needs to be made towards a deal in order to even continue negotiations.

Theresa May will deliver a make or break address to her 27 counterparts, before they chew over her words at a working dinner on Brexit to which the prime minister is not invited.

May will have to try a different approach to tough tone she took in a speech at the Salzburg summit in last month, which was blamed for sparking a crisis in negotiations by the EU.


EU leaders are supposed to have moved on from Brexit by Thursday when migration and security are the big issue on the agenda.

If a deal has been done by then, expect a triumphant Theresa May to skip the second day of the summit and go back to London for a major announcement.

If not, then Brexit could continue to dominate. European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will say whether they believe enough progress has been made to continue talks when they give their traditional end of summit press conference.


If “decisive progress” towards a deal has been made, then attention will turn towards the next Brexit checkpoints.

An emergency European Council summit, at which the only agenda item will be signing off the Withdrawal Agreement, is set to be called for November.

But before that, EU politicians will head to the European parliament in Strasbourg. MEPs, who have a veto on any Brexit deal, will debate whatever has come out of the European Council summit next Wednesday.