Future of Irish border remains an obstacle in Brexit talks

British Prime Minister Theresa May and the Irish government have failed to reach a deal on the crucial Brexit issue of the Northern Ireland border, authorities announced on Monday.

"We had an agreement this morning", Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said, expressing disappointment at the last-minute glitch.

Those words were meant to provide reassurance to the Irish government that, should the European Union and the United Kingdom not be able to reach a trade deal, there would be a backstop that would guarantee trade across the border would continue pretty much as it does now. She said negotiators from both sides would re-enage by the end of the week.

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker were forced to admit it was not possible to strike a Brexit deal on Monday after a frantic day of negotiations came to a halt because Northern Ireland's DUP had not yet been signed up.

The border issue remained the main sticking point. "But at this stage it is very hard to make a prediction", said an official.

"Crucially it is clear that we want to move forward together, but on a couple of issues, differences do remain, which require further negotiation and consultation", said May before heading to meet President of the European Council Donald Tusk nearly one-hour late than scheduled.

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But a failure to agree on the other issues and move onto the next phase of talks raises the risk of Britain crashing out of the European Union in 2019 without arrangements on the terms of divorce or future relationship.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Brussels with Mr Juncker, Mrs May said: "We have been negotiating hard". But the border issue has proved more intractable.

However, unionists tend to view with scepticism any proposal for harmonisation of rules on either side of the border.

If she had ignored their concerns, there's little doubt that the party's 10 MPs would have sat on their hands and not supported the Conservatives in important votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill this week.

The EU wants progress to be made before a summit later this month - only then will they agree for trade talks on Brexit to move forward. "If no clear commitment is made, the EPP group will not be ready to assess the progress made as sufficient to enter a 2nd phase of negotiations", Manfred Weber, German MEP and leader of the largest group, the European People's Party in the EP, tweeted.

Varadkar said he was "surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today".


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