Brexit deal next week 'within reach': Barnier

Theresa May

Top EU officials were warned Wednesday to make plans to cope with the fallout from a "no-deal" Brexit as their chief negotiator said talks with Britain must make more progress before next week's crunch summit.

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington is also due to hold Brexit meetings with figures from the UK's devolved administrations on Thursday.

The EU proposed a "backstop" solution to keep the Northern Ireland in the bloc's customs union and parts of the single market that underpins the 1998 peace agreement there - an option British prime minister Theresa May has rejected so far arguing it would create a border within the United Kingdom, in the North Sea between Northern Ireland and the mainland UK.

The unionist leader said she feared that the European Union was forcing Northern Ireland into a deal that amounted to "the worst of one world" in which the region would remain part of the single market and remain under the ECJ, and would remain subject to trade restrictions with the rest of the UK.

"Trade from Great Britain into Northern Ireland would be in danger of restriction". Many of her cabinet colleagues have assured me of their Unionism.

London hopes to resolve the issue with a future trade deal, but agrees there should be a "backstop" arrangement to avoid physical frontier checks until that deal is done.

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Theresa May will on Thursday ask her Brexit "war Cabinet" to agree a backstop plan that would keep Britain in a customs union with Brussels until a permanent trade deal can be agreed. "She said that the nationalist party supported remaining in the customs union and single market because it would give the north continued unfettered access to the EU market of around 500 million people and the British market of 67 million".

In a move seen by some as a warning shot, DUP MPs failed to back the Government in voting against a Labour amendment to an Agriculture Bill outlining post-Brexit reforms on Wednesday night.

Commenting on the Irish backstop, Barnier said the EU's plan to keep Northern Ireland in the Single Market and customs union would help keep the border invisible - a goal of both sets of negotiators.

May's Conservative party has relied on the DUP's 10 MPs to pass legislation since losing its majority in the House of Commons in the June 2017 election.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP's Brexit spokesman, warned the PM was pursuing "the road to parliamentary defeat" because his party would vote against any deal that included the proposed backstop, branded a "sell-out".

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