Brexit

Brexit deal collapses amid row over backstop

The UK is on course to leave the EU on March 29

TALKS between Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier have failed to resolve key issues including the Irish border question.

The unscheduled talks in Brussels yesterday came amid speculation officials working on the negotiations had reached a deal.

But following the meeting, Mr Barnier said that "despite intense efforts" there had been a failure to reach agreement on one of the trickiest aspects of the negotiations.

The surprise announcement of the meeting fuelled rumours a deal was set to be done ahead of a summit of EU leaders on Wednesday.

Ambassadors from the remaining 27 EU states were also invited to attend an update on the progress of negotiations.

But after talks, which lasted little over an hour, it was clear that obstacles remained.

Mr Barnier said "some key issues are still open", including the so-called backstop measure to prevent a hard border. He said he would debrief the 27 remaining EU states and the European Parliament on the state of the negotiations.

Any developments in the Brexit process will be closely scrutinised by Tory MPs, who fear that Theresa May will give away too much in the negotiations and potentially leave the UK indefinitely tied to the EU's customs union.

The Prime Minister faces a potential Tory mutiny and any deal could also have major repercussions for her pact with the DUP.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis has urged a Cabinet revolt against the Prime Minister's strategy.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries suggested that Mr Davis should be installed as interim leader, claiming that was the only way to secure the kind of free-trade deal Brexit demanded by Eurosceptics.

And allies of Mr Davis said he has been contacted by several Tory MPs urging him to run for the leadership.

The issue of the backstop - a mechanism to avoid a hard border - is at the heart of the troubles facing Mrs May's leadership.

The European Union's version of the backstop, which would see just Northern Ireland remain aligned with Brussels' rules, has been called unacceptable by Mrs May and is loathed by the DUP.

Mrs May's counter-proposal is for a "temporary customs arrangement" for the whole UK, but Tory Brexiteers fear this becoming an open-ended position which would prevent free trade deals with countries around the world.

Cabinet minister Matt Hancock sought to play down speculation that some of his colleagues might quit over the Brexit plans, but was unable to say whether a fixed deadline for any customs arrangement would be written into a deal with Brussels.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "There are different ways that you can make sure that something is credibly time limited and that's what I want to see".

Writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Davis, who quit in July over Brexit, said: "It is time for the Cabinet to exert their collective authority".

The newspaper said at least nine ministers want Mrs May to change course when the Cabinet meets tomorrow.

Staunch Brexiteers Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey are at the centre of resignation speculation, but the report also indicated that Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson could quit because of the sensitivity of the issue in relation to calls for Scottish independence.

Mrs May's own position also appeared in jeopardy, with as many as 44 letters demanding a vote of no confidence reportedly submitted to the Conservative 1922 Committee - just four short of the number required to trigger a ballot.

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