UK and EU can reach deal by October: Brexit minister

Another round of talks ended without a breakthrough on the crucial issue of trade to and from Northern Ireland, which has emerged as a possible deal-breaker

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said Wednesday reaching a deal with the EU ahead of an October summit "is within our sights" but there is "leeway" to miss the deadline.

Raab, who only took up his role in July, insisted 80 percent of an agreement on Britain's future relationship with the European Union was agreed, but concluding the deal "may creep" beyond October.

"We are aiming for the October council, but there is some measure of leeway," he told a British parliamentary committee, referring to a meeting of EU heads of state on October 18 and 19.

"The contours of an agreement are there," he added. "I'm confident that a deal is within our sights."

London and Brussels last week agreed to start rolling Brexit negotiations as fears grow that Britain could leave the bloc next year without a deal.

Until recently there have been separate "rounds" of Brexit talks every few weeks.

The two sides now have just a few months before an agreement on Britain's divorce -- set for March 29, 2019 -- must be forged in principle by October or November, to allow time for their parliaments to approve the plans.

Talks have become stuck on key issues, including how to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, and on the future trading relationship.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier reiterated Wednesday that the bloc was prepared to offer Britain a partnership "such as has never been with any other third country".

The statement prompted an immediate spike in the British pound, which gained ground on the dollar and euro.

Raab and Barnier will hold talks in Brussels on Friday.