No deal yet after flurry of Brexit diplomacy

Theresa May and Arlene Foster

Theresa May and Arlene Foster

European Union negotiators and leaders have said that Britain should not seek to cherry-pick the best parts of staying in the European Union and leave the tough parts out in its withdrawal agreement and future relations.

The prime minister was asked by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to give an explicit date when the so-called "Brexit backstop" would end.

"A few days ago I presented in cabinet a plan prepared with the foreign minister to allow us to legislate by decree, in order to take all necessary measures in case of no deal".

"I am sure that this is last thing Boris wants.' At yesterday's Cabinet meeting, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox told ministers that accepting the EU's proposed backstop as it is now written would amount to 'rolling the dice" on whether the United Kingdom would ever be able to escape the customs union.

But they were disappointed by the issue that has dogged the talks for months - how to ensure that no hard border is created between the EU's Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland once Brexit happens on March 29.

During a recent appearance on Good Morning Britain, Johnson championed Margaret Thatcher's policies towards Northern Ireland and argued that Thatcher would be happy letting "the Irish shoot each other" - regardless of there being a hard/soft border.

British officials said London could not agree to Brussels' demand to have "a backstop to a backstop", which would see the EU's proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the bloc's customs union if a new trading relationship is not in place in time.

The EU's Brexit pointman Michel Barnier met his British counterpart Dominic Raab in Brussels on Sunday, but they failed to agree on a draft Brexit divorce arrangement as had been hoped.

But aspects of the withdrawing member's future relationship with the European Union are unresolved, Barnier said, most notably the border that will separate European Union member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. "And that is the spirit in which I will continue to work with our European partners".

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To illustrate the perceived intractability of the Irish border problem, Tusk compared it to the mythical Gordian knot that can not be untied because it is so complicated.

"Unfortunately, I can't see a new version of Alexander the Great", Tusk said.

Mr Roth made clear that Germany is alive to the problems Mrs May could face in getting any deal through Parliament, telling reporters: "I have the impression that it is hard to secure the appropriate parliamentary majority in Great Britain". Tusk warned that chances of Britain leaving without a deal were higher than ever before.

He added that today's meeting of the Cabinet was not a "decision-making" event.

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party of the Northern Ireland stressed on Monday, that there can not be any "economic barriers between Britain and N. Ireland".

Also attending were International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Treasury Secretary Liz Truss and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

Germany exhorted May to come to the summit with a positive message that could kick-start the stalled talks.

On Sunday, Mr Hunt hosted a group of eight of his European counterparts before holding one-on-one talks with four others in Luxembourg the next day.

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