Theresa May is said to be poised to fly to Brussels first thing this morning to finalise a deal with the EU that will unlock talks on trade after frantic night-long negotiations
Theresa May is said to be poised to fly to Brussels first thing this morning to finalise a deal with the EU that will unlock talks on trade after frantic night-long negotiations.
After days of stalemate, British and European officials said they were ‘within touching distance’ of hammering out a 'divorce agreement' that satisfies the EU, Ireland and Mrs May’s governing partners in the DUP.
It could see the PM head to Brussels as early as today if she wins consensus on a plan for the Irish border.
An earlier outline of a deal on the key divorce issues was torpedoed by the DUP on Monday. The party objected to plans for ‘regulatory alignment’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic to maintain a soft border, arguing it would amount to the drawing of a new frontier with the UK mainland.
But last night, sources suggested there was fresh movement that could see a deal agreed before a crucial EU summit next week.
European Council president Donald Tusk last night announced he would make a statement on Brexit in Brussels this morning, fuelling speculation a deal was close.
However, a Government source tried to calm the speculation, saying: ‘We’re not there yet.’
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker held calls with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar then Mrs May yesterday evening.
His chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas said a morning meeting between Mr Juncker and Mrs May that would allow negotiations to move forward was ‘possible’. He said: ‘We are making progress but not yet fully there. Talks are continuing throughout the night.’
No 10 said Mrs May had also spoken to Mr Varadkar. The late-night talks came as Boris Johnson yesterday warned the PM not to make further compromises on Brexit.
The Foreign Secretary said he backed Mrs May to achieve a breakthrough – but warned that she must not make any concessions that would prevent the UK ‘taking back control of our laws, borders and cash’ after Brexit.
European Council president Donald Tusk (pictured) last night announced he would make a statement on Brexit in Brussels this morning, fuelling speculation a deal was close
A plane is likely to be at the ready for Mrs May to fly to Brussels if an agreement is in place
He said any deal must stick to the spirit of the Leave campaign he led, and the UK had already met the EU ‘more than halfway’ by offering a divorce payment of up to £40billion.
Asked if he was comfortable with a widespread ‘regulatory alignment’ between the UK and EU after Brexit, he added: ‘You can take it from me that whatever comes up, whatever the solution that we come to, whatever we devise getting on to the body of the talks, it’s got to be consistent, it’s got to be consistent with the whole of the United Kingdom taking back control.’
Mrs May has faced a backlash from some Tory Eurosceptics after it emerged she had offered to guarantee some sectors of the economy would remain ‘aligned’ with EU regulations.
One DUP MP said: ‘We’ve got loads of Tories coming up to us saying, “Keep going, hang in there.” Theresa’s problems aren’t with us, they’re with her own side.’
Government sources insist the plan would never be needed as the border issue will be solved by a comprehensive trade deal or a technological solution.
Mrs May told MPs this week that she was not compromising on her Brexit principles. But critics fear any concession could make it harder for Britain to strike free trade deals.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (right) held calls with Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar then Mrs May yesterday evening
Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar (pictured left) and DUP leader Arlene Foster (right)
Senior Tories are also concerned about proposals that could allow the European Court of Justice to have an indirect role in overseeing the rights of 3million EU citizens in the UK.
The Government is thought to be seeking to limit the role to five years, but Brussels is pushing for it to last at least 15.
Labour MP Gisela Stuart, another leading Leaver, also warned against concessions that could limit flexibility. She said following rules dictated by Brussels would be ‘single-market membership in all but name’.
One senior Eurosceptic MP said it was time for Mrs May to put pro-Remain Whitehall mandarins ‘back in their box’. They said: ‘There needs to be much more direction, conviction and certainty from the top.’