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Optimism increases that Brexit deal can be reached soon

EU and UK flags fly above the EU Commission offices in Westminster, London. David Cameron is making final efforts to bolster support for his proposed European Union reforms before a crunch summit. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday February 17 2016. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Hopes that a Brexit deal will be hammered out within weeks have risen after key EU leaders expressed optimism an agreement can be reached.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted it is increasingly important to cut a deal "sooner rather than later".

The remarks came after both European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and his counterpart at the European Council Donald Tusk delivered unusually upbeat messages.

Mr Juncker struck a positive note when asked if a deal could be made, telling Austrian media: "I have reason to think that the rapprochement potential between both sides has increased in recent days."

The mood was echoed by Mr Tusk who said the EU is trying to agree a deal this month, adding: "And I think there is a chance to have an accord by the end of the year."

Mr Varadkar said: "There will be a summit in just under two weeks' time in Brussels and that'll be a chance for us to take stock.”

"I would be hopeful that at that point there will be some decisive progress allowing us to conclude an agreement by November. But that remains to be seen as I think there is a fair bit of work to be done.”

"It's increasingly important that we do conclude an agreement sooner rather than later.”

"I would have concerns for business and jobs and for the economy if we were to run into December - into the new year - without knowing what the content of the withdrawal agreement would be."

Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney said talks are now entering an intensive phase.

He told the Press Association: "It is now time for the UK and EU's talented negotiators to lock themselves into a room and complete the withdrawal agreement over the next two weeks.”

"The EU summit of October 17/18 must hear of progress for a special summit to be called in November.”

"The Irish and EU position has not changed and the UK must deliver on its written commitments of last December and March. That is a backstop that guarantees no hard border in Ireland or related checks or infrastructure.”

"We don't want the backstop to ever be used, instead we want a close future trading relationship with the UK negotiated over the transition period of a managed Brexit.”

"We believe this can be done and it is the responsibility of politicians to give the final push for a deal."

Meanwhile, prominent pro-Europe Labour MP Chris Bryant insisted he had not been involved in talks with the Government on backing a deal after reports that Downing Street had launched a "charm offensive" to try and win opposition support for Prime Minister Theresa May's stance.

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