Brexit deal: hard days ahead as DUP says 'no'

DUP leader Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster

According to a leak to the Irish state broadcaster RTE, the United Kingdom was willing to agree to Northern Ireland having "continued regulatory alignment" with the Republic of Ireland to ensure there was a continued soft border between the North and South.

"Crucially it is clear that we want to move forward together, but on a couple of issues, differences do remain, which require further negotiation and consultation", said May before heading to meet President of the European Council Donald Tusk nearly one-hour late than scheduled.

But the issues of the rights of expatriate citizens and the UK-EU border on the island of Ireland remain fraught, diplomats said.

She said negotiators from both sides would re-enage by the end of the week.

Mrs May had traveled to Brussels with high hopes that a deal could be struck with the European Union and that talks could move on to the crucial trade arrangements as early as the New Year.

Britain is set to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019 yet the progress on its exit and the terms of new relations have been painfully slow.

There was even talk of Mrs May's set-piece lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President, being used to thrash out the terms of a trade deal, with the terms of the divorce deal already in the bag.

Israeli missile targets military base near Damascus
Iran-backed Shi'ite militias, including Hezbollah , have helped Damascus regain control of swathes of the country. Satellite images commissioned by the BBC show construction activity at the site from January to October, 2017.

The EU has demanded "sufficient progress" on key withdrawal issues - the UK's exit payment, citizens' rights and Irish border - before the second phase can start.

Elmar Brok, another member of the European Parliament who met Juncker and his Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, shortly before they met May, said "just a few words" had separated the sides and that there was a "very good chance" of agreement.

Such a move would essentially mean Northern Ireland remained inside the Customs Union and the Single Market, leading to a potential decoupling from the rest of the UK. But then Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May's minority government, announced it wouldn't support any deal that made special rules for Northern Ireland.

He added: "The indications we have is that we are in a much better place now than we have been in the negotiations to date".

May depends in parliament on a pro-British party in Northern Ireland that rejects any deal which would divide the province from the British mainland.

Varadkar said he would speak in public shortly.

"I still hope this matter can be concluded in the coming days", he said.

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