Intense talks ongoing as Brexit deadline looms

Intense negotiations were ongoing last night between the EU and Britain in an attempt to break the deadlock over Brexit, with hopes that a new deal will be agreed.

Additional language was being added to the text of the deal to allay unionist concerns that the North would in some way be a separate part of Britain or be treated differently.

The last-minute changes need to be done so the deal can be approved by Ireland, Britain, and EU members before going before a special EU summit next week.

European Council president Donald Tusk is expected to make a statement early today.

There was speculation last night that DUP leader Arlene Foster may fly to London to personally agree the deal with Prime Minister Theresa May face to face.

Irish negotiators remained tight-lipped last night, only acknowledging that some breakthrough could be made before Sunday.

A Government spokesman said: “Matters are being discussed as part of ongoing discussions involving the task force, the Irish government and the British government.”

Earlier, a spokesman for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Ms May had an effective deadline of Sunday night if she wants to return to Brussels to seal a deal and hope to have agreement on trade talks next Friday.

The delicate choreography of reaching an accord involves Ms May striking a deal on making “sufficient progress” on the North, citizenship concerns, and the divorce bill with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

This would then be brought to Mr Tusk who would recommend it for the summit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday night that Ms May was hoping to return with a new formal written offer by yesterday, but warned, if there was no agreement, talks would be picked up in the new year.

By yesterday morning, Ms May’s spokesman said all sides were “close to an agreement, but there is more work still to be done”.

The DUP forced Britain to collapse the deal late on Monday, after the text specified as a backstop that regulations between the North and Republic of Ireland would be aligned.

Additional text was being worked on but the Irish Government is adamant this must not change the substance of the deal or protections to ensure no hard border.

It is understood that Ms May and Mr Juncker held a phone call at 6pm yesterday.

Mr Varadkar held several calls with Ms May in an effort to break the impasse.

Earlier, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said it is a pity the border issue isn’t “all wrapped up”, but added that he is not “overly surprised” given the number of people and parties involved in talks.

Speaking to RTÉ, Mr Ahern said he believed the best idea would be for the British government to move nearer to a customs union for Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales.

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