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Any last-minute Brexit deal will be tentative

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Only a conditional agreement can be expected at today's Brussels summit

BRUSSELS : Any approval of a last-minute Brexit deal by European Union leaders at their summit in Brussels today and Friday could only be conditional on the British House of Commons approving it later, three diplomats with the bloc said.

"It's clear there can only be, at most, a political agreement tomorrow or Friday. We have not seen any texts. This is going to take more time," said one senior EU diplomat.

"I cannot imagine leaders tomorrow being able to say more than: 'This doesn't look too bad and let's work with the UK to set out more details'."

A second senior EU diplomat said of the talks in Brussels and a planned Saturday session of the House of Commons: "If things go well, the sword of Damocles remains, with the decision of the British Parliament."

A third diplomat added that, should there be an eleventh-hour agreement between the British and EU in Brussels, the summit could offer London a short delay to its departure date currently due on Oct 31 to polish the details, Reuters reported.

Without any agreement, the bloc would entertain a longer lag, the diplomat said.

Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said he remained hopeful Britain would secure a deal to leave the EU, but sticking points remained.

"I am convinced that all parties are serious about getting an agreement by the end of this month," he said after a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"There is a pathway to a possible deal but there are many issues that still need to be resolved."

In London, a spokesman for Mr Johnson said there had been progress in late-night talks in Brussels, which resumed yesterday morning, "but there is more work still to do".

If EU leaders do not approve a deal, Mr Johnson is required by British law to ask to delay Brexit - something he has repeatedly vowed not to do, AFP reported.

The key stumbling block has long been how to manage the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Both sides are keen to avoid the reintroduction of border infrastructure, which could risk reigniting violence between pro-Irish republicans and UK-supporting unionists.

But London wants the entire UK - including Northern Ireland - to leave the EU's customs union, suggesting there must be customs checks somewhere on goods crossing between north and south.

Meanwhile, Brexit Minister Steve Barclay confirmed the government would abide by a law requiring it to request a delay if no deal is reached by Saturday.

"The government will comply with the law," he told a committee of MPs, while adding that "it is important that we leave on Oct 31".