May and Varadkar discuss NI backstop as rumours swirl over Brexit deal

Rupa Haq MP Trevor Phillips Ayesha Hazarika Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala at the Queen Mary panel. Credit Jonathan Cole

Rupa Haq MP Trevor Phillips Ayesha Hazarika Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala at the Queen Mary panel. Credit Jonathan Cole

On Sunday, The Times reported that sources say Prime Minister May had secured a so-called "concession" on the Irish border question with the European Union whereby the whole of the United Kingdom would remain in the bloc's Customs Union.

This would avoid the EU's "backstop" solution that would have treated Northern Ireland differently from the rest of Britain.

In a phone conversation with the Taoiseach, Mrs May said that any agreement would have to include a mechanism to bring an end to the backstop - created to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland if the United Kingdom and European Union fail to reach a broader trade deal.

The Prime Minister is said to be preparing to sell the plan to Brexiteers in the Cabinet by insisting the customs arrangement will not be permanent, and that the alternative is a potentially disastrous "no-deal" exit from the bloc in March.

Mr Lidington replied by saying: "We're certainly. very close to resolving it".

Sunday Times reports that under plans devised by May and EU negotiators, the whole of the United Kingdom would effectively remain within a customs union with the bloc after Brexit.

Downing Street has dismissed a report that Mrs May is edging towards a complex agreement with Brussels which would allow the creation of a whole-UK customs union to avoid the imposition of a hard border.

Downing Street confirmed the call had taken place "to take stock of the progress being made in the negotiations", and the two leaders discussed the outstanding issues in the Brexit talks.

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Writing in the Sun, Mr Johnson said such a format would be "a Christmas present of the finest old Brussels fudge" meaning Britain getting "absolutely nothing in return" for an "absolutely amazing" £39 billion divorce payment.

And it will include an "exit clause" to avoid suspicion that Britain will forever be tied to European Union rules, allowing the Government to forge a future free trade deal like that enjoyed by Canada.

"We are choosing wholesale subjection".

EU law expert Professor Steve Peers told this newspaper: 'I think there became an increased chance of a deal once the EU apparently agreed to a UK-wide customs union with the EU in the withdrawal agreement'.

Glen, the financial services minister, said he is "extremely confident we will reach an imminent deal", Reuters reported.

A senior EU source said the United Kingdom prime minister would need determine whether she could sell an open-ended customs union to her party, but the calculation in Brussels was that it would be acceptable to the House of Commons as a whole.

"The prime minister has been clear that we are making good progress on the future relationship and 95% of the withdrawal agreement is now settled and negotiations are ongoing", the spokesman also said, as quoted by the Sky News.

"This has been committed to by the United Kingdom in order to have a Withdrawal Agreement".

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