Brexit deal still a long way away, Downing Street source warns

London: Britain remains a long way from agreeing a final Brexit deal and the next few days will be critical if it is to agree departure terms with the European Union, a Downing Street source says.

Negotiators for Britain and the EU entered intense talks over the weekend to see if they can break the Brexit impasse before a crucial summit next week and a deadline for Britain to leave the bloc on October 31.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, pictured alongside DUP leader Arlene Foster, has openly questioned the likelihood of a Brexit deal.

News of progress in the talks sent financial markets surging on Friday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar identified a pathway to a deal following months of acrimony.

But on Saturday, local time, the deputy leader of the Northern Irish party which holds a key role in the talks signalled his concern about the mooted proposal and the Downing Street source said Britain remained ready to leave without a deal if needed.

"We've always wanted a deal," the source said, on condition of anonymity. "It is good to see progress, but we will wait to see if this is a genuine breakthrough.

"We are a long way from a final deal and the weekend and next week remain critical to leaving with a deal on October 31. We remain prepared to leave without a deal on October 31."

The Sunday Times newspaper reported that Johnson, the face of Britain's 2016 campaign to leave the EU, was now "desperate" to secure a deal after security chiefs warned that leaving in a disorderly manner could inflame tensions in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party poured cold water over any Brexit compromise.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds warned the mooted plan - reportedly being discussed by EU and UK officials in Brussels - "cannot work".

Reports from the Belgian capital said Johnson has sought to revive a proposal first put forward by his predecessor Theresa May for a customs partnership between the UK and the EU.

The scheme, intended to avoid the need for customs controls on the island of Ireland, would see Northern Ireland remain politically in a customs union with the EU but it would be administered by the UK.

However Dodds - whose party's votes will almost certainly be needed to get a Brexit deal through the British parliament - told the Italian La Repubblica newspaper that Northern Ireland "must stay in a full UK customs union, full stop".

"It cannot work because Northern Ireland has to remain fully part of the UK customs union," he said.

"There is a lot of stuff coming from Brussels, pushed by the Europeans in the last hours, but one thing is sure: Northern Ireland must remain fully part of the UK customs union. And Boris Johnson knows it very well."

British officials have so far remained tight-lipped in the face of the reports.

The reported plan would create a customs border in the Irish Sea with goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland being subject to tariffs which Britain would collect on behalf of the EU.

Businesses would then be able to claim a rebate once they had shown the goods were for consumption in the UK market.

However it would mean that Northern Ireland would be able to benefit from any post-Brexit trade deals the UK struck with other countries around the world.

Ireland has proved the toughest nut to crack in the Brexit talks, specifically how to prevent the British province of Northern Ireland becoming a backdoor into the EU's markets without having border controls.

Ireland fears controls on the 500 kilometre border with Northern Ireland would undermine the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of sectarian and political conflict that killed more than 3600 people.

Johnson is likely to talk to senior EU leaders on Monday to reassess the situation, the source said.

Reuters, PA


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