No deal reached on Irish border with further talks due later this week

The British Prime Minister was in Brussels for talks this afternoon

No deal reached on Irish border with further talks due later this week

Picture by: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

Updated 16:10

British and European negotiators have failed to finalise an agreement on the Irish border this afternoon - however they have agreed to resume talks later this week.

It is believed British negotiators have agreed in principal to concede ground that could avoid the threat of a hard border - and lead to a breakthrough in Brexit talks.

The proposal would see Britain agreeing on a system of regulatory alignment on the island of Ireland that would see rules governing trade remaining the same on both sides of the border.

The plan would ensure that goods and people can continue to move freely across a soft border.

However, the British Prime Minister will need to convince the Democratic Unionist Party and hardline Brexiteers within her own party to accept the deal.

Earlier DUP leader Arlene Foster again insisted that her party “will not accept any form of regulatory divergence” between Northern Ireland and Britain.

More consultation

In a press briefing just after 5pm today, Mrs May said “more consultation” is needed on certain issues - but insisted she is confident Brexit talks will come to a positive conclusion.

She was speaking following a meeting with the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker in Brussels.

At the same Briefing Mr Juncker said Mrs May was a “tough negotiator” but added that officials stand ready to resume talks later this week.

He said he is confident that sufficient progress can be reached before the next EU summit on 14th and 15th December.

Draft agreement.

Earlier, Belgian MEP Phillipe Lamberts - who is on the EU's Brexit Steering Committee - said he had seen the draft agreement, adding that he believed it was likely the proposal would be accepted:

“I would put my money on it,” he said.

“I think that pending the good will of the Prime Ministers of Ireland and the United Kingdom, we can get a deal today.”

He said the proposed agreement would result in a special situation on the island of Ireland - with no regulatory divergence when it comes to the single market or the customs union.

What that basically means is no customs points or hard border with the north and that very little would change in practice for people travelling from north to south.

MEP Lamberts says there's no other choice:

“First the United Kingdom again comes to terms with reality,” he said.

“You cannot say on the one hand that you want to get out of the single market, the customs union and the jurisdiction of the ECJ and that you want to remain faithful to the Good Friday Agreement – this is a contradiction in terms, at least on the island of Ireland.

“I think that the British Government has come to terms with that reality.

“That creates a special situation for Ireland and for Northern Ireland.”

DUP response

Reports of the compromise have angered the DUP, which last week insisted it would not accept Northern Ireland having a deal separate to the rest of the UK - and threatened to collapse the UK government over the issue if it comes to it.

In a statement this afternoon, the party’s leader Arlene Foster said the North “must leave the EU on the same terms of the rest of the United Kingdom.”

“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom,” she said.

“The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.”

She accused the Irish Government of “seeking to unilaterally change the Belfast Agreement without our input or consent.”

Ongoing talks

The Taoiseach spoke with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker earlier ahead of his meeting with Theresa May.

He was due to make a "positive statement" on Brexit at 2:30pm - however that was cancelled as Mrs May was still in talks with Mr Juncker.

Final deal

Speaking on his way into Cabinet this morning, the Health Minister Simon Harris said he hopes a deal can be reached:

“We want to make sure that the Good Friday Agreement is protected,” he said.

“We want to make sure there is no regulatory divergence in terms of trade and we want to make sure that we can keep as close as possible relationship both in trading and in many other ways with Britain and obviously with Northern Ireland.

“So we are entering a number of critically important days.

“Ireland and the Irish side are continuing to work extraordinarily hard on this led by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste.”

Special Cabinet meeting

Leo Varadkar called the meeting this morning to discuss the options on the table – after Diplomats in London and Dublin spent the weekend locked in talks in the hopes of reaching a breakthrough. 

The Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney warned the British government that it will have to make it clear that a hard border will not appear on the island of Ireland under any circumstances.

Speaking on BBC television yesterday, he insisted there is “no desire” in Ireland to delay the process but warned that the government has a responsibility "to represent the interests on the island of Ireland, north and south."

"We believe that Ireland, as an island, is uniquely vulnerable and exposed to a potential bad outcome from Brexit," he said. "That is why we are looking for more progress than we have.”

The British government have argued the border should be dealt with at the next stage - however the Irish Government has remained firm in its stance that talks cannot move forward without concrete proposals on the border.

Europe has made it clear that no deal will be agreed without Ireland's approval.

Brexiteers 

Mrs May is also facing pressure from within her own party as hardline Brexiteers urge her to walk away from the talks.

A number of senior Tories have signed a letter calling on her to refuse to settle the "divorce bill" unless Brussels agrees to new demands.

They include settling the terms of a free trade agreement "in principle," an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and freedom of movement to the UK for EU nationals after Brexit.

Reporting from Sean Defoe ...