Theresa May presents tweaked Brexit plan to cabinet

Dominic Raab has privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of EU’s Irish backstop after just three months

Dominic Raab has privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of EU’s Irish backstop after just three months

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier told Belgian broadcaster RTBF this morning that the two sides were not close to reaching a deal, while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told May on Monday that he was ready to consider a review mechanism that would keep the border with Northern Ireland open after Brexit, but that he would not accept any arrangement that would allow the United Kingdom to withdraw from the customs union without the approval of Brussels.

Theresa May is expected to brief her cabinet today on proposals to avoid a hard border in Ireland through a UK-wide customs arrangement that would eliminate most checks on goods.
To ease Conservative fears that the United Kingdom could effectively stay in the EU customs union indefinitely, preventing trade deals with other countries, Downing Street is pushing for a review mechanism that would allow the United Kingdom to exit the arrangement.

And sources said that the separate "future framework" on EU-UK trade had made such progress that it could be wrapped up quite quickly once the cabinet had made its decision.

The crunch meeting comes amid mounting pressure to finalise the withdrawal agreement in order to announce the leaving terms at a special summit in November. The agreement would "not be done at any cost", her official spokesman said.

"In short term, ministers told be ready for another Cabinet meeting, maybe even at end of this week, because there might be enough movement by then to push button on a deal", she tweeted after the meeting.

"Looks like we're heading for no deal", Jeffrey Donaldson, one of 10 Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lawmakers whose support May needs to get any deal passed in the British parliament, said on Twitter.

However, Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, said that Dublin was open to the idea of a "review mechanism" for the backstop, which could put him in conflict with Mr Barnier.

Work is continuing on this, he said, adding: "Don't be under any illusions that there remains a significant amount of work to do".

"We hope a deal can be done but we're not there yet".

"Such an outcome will have serious consequences for the economy of the Republic".

"Backstop means backstop. And a backstop can not have a time limit".

But he made clear that he would not accept an arrangement which gave the United Kingdom unilateral powers to ditch the customs union without the agreement of Brussels.

Donaldson said that he could not understand why the Irish government "seems so intent on this course".

Mrs May has been boosted by Mr Varadkar's willingness to negotiate a review mechanism, thought to be part of proposals for the United Kingdom to enter an effective customs union with the EU under a backstop arrangement to prevent a hard Irish border.

The wrangling over whether there would be a deal to leave the European Union by Brexit day on March 29 came as a poll suggested Britons would rather stay after all. In the 2016 referendum, they voted 52-48% in favour of Brexit.

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