Brexit

Theresa May preparing for fresh Brexit border offer by tomorrow

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during a press conference at Government Buildings in Dublin. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

THERESA MAY is preparing to make a fresh Brexit offer on the border by tomorrow to try and break the logjam in negotiations.

The move comes amid warnings by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that she may have to wait until the new year for trade talks. With the clock ticking to the December 14 summit of the European Council which must decide whether sufficient progress has been made on the UK’s divorce deal to clear the way for talks on the future relationship, there was no sign of a breakthrough on the crucial issue of the border.

Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill speaking today:

Mr Varadkar’s office characterised a phone-call yesterday with Mrs May as a “stock-taking” exercise. Later he made clear he would not back down on his position that Dublin’s approval for the opening of the second phase of talks is dependent on agreement on the border. But he said he discussed with the British prime minister the idea of Britain amending its offer to win over the DUP which scuppered a proposed deal on Monday.

With Mrs May under intense pressure from business for certainty by Christmas over the transition to a new UK/EU relationship, Mr Varadkar said she is hoping to return with a new formal written offer “tonight and tomorrow”.

The taoiseach said he would consider any new proposal, but added: “Ultimately it is up to them to come back to us, given the events that happened on Monday. “And having consulted with people in London, she wants to come back to us with some text tonight and tomorrow.”

Earlier DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds warned Mr Varadkar that any delays increase the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. Mr Dodds hit out at Mr Varadkar’s comments that phase-two talks might not happen until January claiming the taoiseach was “playing a dangerous game” with the Republic’s own economy.

Downing Street said Mrs May, left, told Mr Varadkar she was “working hard to find a specific solution to the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland” and was committed to “moving together to achieve a positive result on this”.

The prime minister also spoke by phone with DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose rejection of plans for “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the Republic led to the collapse of a proposed deal on Monday. It is understood Mrs Foster has no immediate plans to fly to London for talks with Mrs May and any such move would depend on progress in talks.

A DUP spokesman said: “There is still plenty of work to be done. “The [government and DUP] teams in London are continuing to work through the detail.” 

This morning Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, who is one of the most prominent Brexiteers in the Cabinet, said: "I remain absolutely optimistic that we will reach a successful point, we will move on to the trade talks, because ultimately it is in everybody's interests for that to happen."

Businesses in the Republic of Ireland would suffer if no agreement was reached on the border, he warned.

"If you are running a business in the Republic of Ireland and shipping foods to the EU, the relationship with the UK is pretty fundamentally important, because your goods need to go through the UK," he said.

Mr Grayling declined to discuss the progress of Mrs May's efforts to construct a deal acceptable to all sides, but said that talks were "ongoing" ahead of next week's European Council.

He said that the "regulatory alignment" proposed by the British prime minister in Monday's text did not involve laws within the post-Brexit UK being the same as those in the rest of Europe.

"We don't have to have, we have never said we will have and we don't want a situation where in future our laws are identical to those of the EU," he said.

"There will be areas where we do things in a very similar way, there are will be areas where we don't do things in a similar way.

"That's all the prime minister was seeking to achieve, to make sure we can ensure that trade flows as freely as possible across the border of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland."

Answering questions after a speech at the Foreign Office in London, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson declined to comment on the progress of Brexit negotiations, but said it was time for the EU and Britain to "get going" with the second phase of talks.

Mr Johnson said he was "not going to give a running commentary" on the state of talks with the DUP and Irish government.

But he added, breaking briefly into French: "We need to get going, franchement (frankly), with the second part of the talks.

"That's the exciting bit.

"That's the bit where we will achieve a new trading relationship with our friends and partners.

"We can get it done, we just need to get on with it, and I hope very much that the December European Council will mark that progress."

Mr Johnson insisted any Brexit deal must stick to the spirit of the Leave campaign.

"It is very, very important that whatever happens now, whatever we agree, has got to be consistent with taking back control of our laws, of our borders and of our cash."

The Foreign Secretary said the UK was making a "very good" financial offer to the EU, and when he had said people could "go whistle" for a large exit settlement he was referring to amounts of between £80 billion - £100 billion.

"I was asked my reaction to some of the very extortionate sums that I had heard in the region of £80 or £100 billion, and, I don't want to repeat the offending phrase, but go whistle seems the appropriate reaction to that kind of money.

"When it comes to other sums and other obligations, a more detailed examination of our obligations, our financial obligations, I think you will find the British government is absolutely punctilious in wanting to meet our friends more than half way and to be useful.

"I think you will find the financial offer that we are making is very good, but it is nowhere near the sums that I was first invited to comment on in a musical way."

Asked for his understanding of what the EU's deadline for getting a form of words on legacy issues agreed was, Mr Johnson said: "I don't know what their deadline is.

"But, I think our collective deadline should be as soon as possible."

Pressed on whether he was comfortable with a widespread regulatory alignment between the UK and EU after Brexit, the Foreign Secretary said: "You can take it from me that whatever comes up, whatever the solution that we come to, whatever we devise getting on to the body of the talks, it's got to be consistent, it's got to be consistent with the whole of the United Kingdom taking back control."

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