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EU sets Sunday night deadline as efforts continue to break Brexit deadlock

Failure to overcome the border issue and other details in the so-called divorce settlement will delay the next phase of Brexit negotiations

The EU has given the British government until midnight on Sunday to resolve the impasse over the Irish border.

Failure to overcome the vexed issue and other details in the so-called divorce settlement would delay the next phase of Brexit negotiations until the new year.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas yesterday told reporters in Brussels that so far there was "no white smoke".

"We stand ready to receive Prime Minister May at any moment in time when they are ready," he added.

A breakthrough in the Brexit talks foundered on Monday after the DUP vetoed a proposed deal between the UK and EU27.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party could not sign up to a deal that meant barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain.

The British prime minister has since spoken to Mrs Foster and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in an effort to break the deadlock over the border.

The Republic's Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney said yesterday that Dublin would not back any Brexit divorce deal that altered the core principles of this week's ill-fated draft UK/EU agreement.

The tainaste said the Irish government would consider alternative proposals if any are forthcoming from London but stressed it would not countenance anything that fell short of the assurances it needs over the shape of the border post Brexit.

A delegation of DUP MPs met senior Tories in London yesterday but declined to speak to the media afterwards.

In a statement, DUP MEP Diane Dodds repeated the party's opposition to a hard border or barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain.

"What is required from everyone in this process is a positive attitude and a determination to achieve an outcome that is acceptable to all sides," she said.

"Unfortunately we have some who appear to revel in the prospect of failure – that is not the DUP’s position and we will continue to ensure the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK is maintained and that movement of people and that we do not see a return to the borders of the past with the Republic of Ireland."

Sinn Féin's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said the DUP did not represent the majority view in Northern Ireland, where 56 per cent voted Remain in last year's referendum.

"They are consistently turning their face towards a hard border," she said in Belfast.

"I have made that very clear to Theresa May."

Her comments came as an opinion poll suggested a clear majority of people in the region – 58 per cent – are in favour of Northern Ireland retaining membership of the single market and customs union.

The LucidTalk poll, commissioned by the European United Left - Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament, also suggested that, in the event of a "no deal" hard Brexit, more people in Northern Ireland would prefer to join a united Ireland to maintain EU membership than stay in a UK outside the European Union (48 per cent to 45 per cent).

Mrs O'Neill said the region was facing a crucial "48 hours" and called on the Irish government to stand up for everyone on the island.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood sent a memo to Downing Street warning the British prime minister not to isolate the majority of Northern Ireland in the Brexit negotiations.

He too said the DUP did "not speak for Northern Ireland".

"Those of us, all of us with mandates, have a responsibility to the people of the north who elected us to defend their interests – that means defending the economic, social and political interests of all people here," he said.

Senior Ulster Unionists also wrote to Mrs May, stressing that any measures which further isolated the north from Britain "should be firmly resisted".

The letter from UUP leader Robin Swann, MEP Jim Nicholson and party chairman Lord Empey said clarity was needed on the “regulatory alignment” proposed as part of the EU-UK deal.

"As it stands, such an arrangement would endanger the constitutional status of Northern Ireland," the letter said.

"It would mean Northern Ireland having no control or even oversight over the decision making process."

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