UK, EU close to Brexit deal over Irish border

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

'If we can get a good deal, and that means removing all the frictions.... the Chequers-type deal, as I say, if we don't have friction with trade, then, economically, I don't think it's going to make a particular big difference one way or the other'.

Cabinet met for around three hours on Tuesday without reaching agreement on a final offer to present to Brussels.

Hopes of a major breakthrough on Brexit have risen after Theresa May's cabinet edged closer to agreeing a deal with Brussels.

Following the Cabinet meeting, Mrs May's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister said she was confident of reaching a deal".

The crucial test inside Cabinet will be if Mrs May can persuade Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox to back her plan.

Speaking in the Irish parliament on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar repeated his red lines.

"A backstop with a three-month limit on it or expiry date of that nature isn't worth the paper it's written on and what the backstop the UK Government has signed up to is a legally operative backstop that will apply unless and until we have any agreement to supersede it", he continued.

"I'm open to creative solutions and creative language but we will not resile from our fundamental resolution, the backstop can not have a time limit or an exit clause", he continued.

Her spokesman, though, played down a Sunday Times report that an agreement with the European Union was done.

The Cabinet was reported to have discussed ways to break the deadlock that has dogged negotiations for several weeks.

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Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said the two negotiating teams are not yet close to agreement.

"There is still a real point of divergence on the way of guaranteeing peace in Ireland, that there are no borders in Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the single market", he told a Belgian TV station.

The report claims an "all-UK customs deal" will be written into the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which would do away with the need for the controversial "backstop" arrangement agreed by the United Kingdom last December, which would see Northern Ireland remain in full alignment with the EU's single market and customs union rules in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

May's official spokesman warned reporters: "Don't be under any illusion, there remains a significant amount of work to do".

If Prime Minister Theresa May and European Union officials fail to reach an agreement by next March, animals travelling to the European Union will need rabies vaccinations.

Jeffrey Donaldson, an MP from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up May's government, said Dublin's refusal to budge could scupper a deal.

Mr Gauke told a Channel 4 Brexit debate show: 'If we leave on no-deal terms there's no good shying away, it will be very bad for us economically.

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

Mr Barnier added a backstop arrangement "cannot have an end-date" and "must be applicable unless and until another solution is found". Instead, May's team is aiming to have a deal ready for the end of the month, but that will require the political will to get over the hurdle of the Irish border question, the person said.

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