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Brexit: No breakthrough despite Irish border compromise

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker hope to reconvene later this week.

Theresa May is meeting EU leaders in Brussels.
Theresa May is meeting EU leaders in Brussels. AP

Brexit talks have again stalled as Theresa May and European Union leaders meet in Brussels for crucial discussions about Britain's withdrawal from Europe.

Mrs May and EU Council President Jean-Claude Juncker said they hope to reconvene later this week for more talks ahead of the December 14 summit of the European Council.

The prime minister said she was "confident we will conclude this positively"

"I'm still confident that we can reach sufficient progress before the European Council of December 15," she said.

"This is not a failure, this is the start of the very last round. I'm very confident that we will reach an agreement in the course of this week."

Mr Juncker said the meeting was "friendly and constructive".

He went on: "I have to say that she's a tough negotiator, and not an easy one, and she's defending the point of view of Britain with all the energy we know she has, and this is the same on the side of the European Union..

The breakdown comes after Mrs May agreed there will be "no regulatory divergence" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit, a major compromise intended to ensure there is no hard Irish border.

Regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic would likely mean both sides following the same rules governing trade, to ensure that goods can continue to move freely across a "soft" border with no checks.

News of the possible deal has angered the Democratic Unionist Party, which said it will not accept any Brexit deal that "separates" Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK..

Responding to reports of a draft agreement for there to be "regulatory alignment", Downing Street insisted that the UK's "territorial and economic integrity will be protected".

DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose party is effectively keeping Mrs May in Downing Street in a confidence and supply deal with the minority Tory Government, said Northern Ireland must leave the EU "on the same terms as the rest of the UK".

"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."

Nicola Sturgeon responded to the reports by saying there was no good reason that Scotland could not do the same with the EU and "effectively stay in the single market".

Leanne Wood, the leader of the Party of Wales, urged the Welsh Government to fight for any special deals afforded to Northern Ireland.

Ahead of the meetings in Brussels, Mrs May's official spokesman said: "The PM has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected."

The PM's talks with Mr Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk could have a crucial bearing on whether she is able to secure the necessary "sufficient progress" at the Brussels summit.

The two sides have appeared to be moving closer on the divorce bill and future citizens' rights but the Irish Government made clear ahead of talks that the border issue - the third area where Brussels is demanding progress - remained unresolved.

Mr Juncker held talks with Taoiseach Leo Vardakar minutes before meeting Mrs May.

The Irish border issue has become a sticking point in Brexit talks.
The Irish border issue has become a sticking point in Brexit talks. AP

The UK government wants the European Council summit of EU leaders on December 14 and 15 to agree that Brexit talks can move on to trade and a transition deal.

Some unionists in Northern Ireland fear that regulatory alignment could lead to the effective drawing of a new border in the Irish Sea between the province and the rest of the UK, if the Westminster Government decides it wants to diverge from EU rules.

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson warned Mrs May not to proceed with regulatory alignment.

He said: "I think that this is emanating from the Irish Government, obviously, trying to push the UK Government into a corner in the negotiations.

"It is not well thought through. I don't think, given its promises, the British Government could concede on this."

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