May to chair cabinet meeting over Brexit deadlock

British Prime Minister Theresa May will chair a special cabinet meeting after the UK and the European Union failed to reach an agreement to move to the next stage of Brexit negotiations.

Mrs May’s hopes of securing agreement on the terms of Britain's EU withdrawal were stalled yesterday when the Democratic Unionist Party refused to accept proposals which would have shifted Northern Ireland's customs border to the Irish Sea - writes

Mrs May is planning to return to Brussels before the end of the week, with time running out to persuade leaders of the remaining 27 EU nations at a summit on 14-15 December that "sufficient progress" has been made on divorce issues to move Brexit negotiations on to their second phase.

The second phasewill deal with trade and the transition to a new relationship.

She was expected to speak by phone with DUP leader Arlene Foster today as she grapples to find a form of words acceptable to the party, on which Mrs May relies to prop up her minority administration at Westminster.

Mrs May had to break off from talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday for an urgent call with the DUP leader, after she declared her party's opposition to proposals which would have imposed "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and the Republic in order to avoid the need for a hard border.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the deal had been agreed by the European Commission, UK and the Irish Government before the process was thrown into disarray by Ms Foster's eleventh-hour intervention.

He said he was "surprised and disappointed" by Mrs May's request for more time.

European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed that, until the surprise developments at Stormont, he had been preparing to issue new negotiating guidelines for the second phase of talks today.

It is also understood that differences also remain between the EU and Britain over the issue of European Court of Justice jurisdiction over EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit.

Mrs May insisted she was still "confident" of getting a green light for trade talks at next week's summit.

Failure to do so would risk throwing the whole Brexit process into crisis, as many companies are believed to be preparing to activate contingency plans to start moving staff and activities out of the UK if there are no signs of progress by Christmas.

EU officials are understood to believe that a text of the deal must be thrashed out by the end of the week to allow it to be included in draft summit conclusions and give other leaders time to consult their own governments - and in some cases parliaments - before convening in Brussels.

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