May to deliver Brexit update in parliament - spokesperson

2018-10-15 19:50

British Prime Minister Theresa May will update parliament on the status of Brexit negotiations later on Monday, her spokesperson said, a day after last-ditch talks in Brussels failed to agree a draft divorce settlement.

The statement to MPs, due mid-afternoon, comes amid mounting concern that Britain will now struggle to get a deal agreed before it leaves the European Union in March next year.

"It's an opportunity to provide an update to the House" of Commons, just days before a key Brussels summit starting on Wednesday, the spokesperson said.

He added that despite "real progress" in the negotiations, there were "a number of unresolved issues" relating to Ireland.

The sticking point is how to keep open the land border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Britain leaves the bloc's single market and customs union.

The EU has proposed that until a wider trade deal is agreed that removes the need for frontier checks, Northern Ireland should continue to follow its customs and single market rules.

But London says this so-called "backstop" plan risks internal barriers in the UK, and instead suggests the whole country agree a "temporary customs arrangement" with the bloc.

Sunday's talks in Brussels broke down after the EU was prepared to accept Britain's backstop plan but only in addition to its own, a British government source told AFP.

The Northern Ireland-only option would come into effect if the whole-Britain plan – a potentially complicated arrangement which London says will still allow it to sign its own trade deals with non-EU countries – is not ready in time, Brussels reportedly proposed.

"The EU continues to insist on the possibility of a customs border down the Irish Sea.... [which] is not acceptable to the prime minister," May's spokesperson said, declining to give further details.

He also emphasised the need for any backstop to be temporary, saying: "We are not going to be stuck permanently in a single customs territory unable to do meaningful trade deals."

However, when asked if there would be an end date in the final text, he said: "There are a number of means of achieving what we want to achieve."

Several of May's ministers are said to be considering resigning if she agrees to an indefinite customs arrangement with the EU.

The Northern Irish party which props up her government, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), is also strongly opposed to anything that affects the province's status within the United Kingdom.

The DUP's Brexit spokesperson, Sammy Wilson, said leaving without a deal was now "probably inevitable".

However, May's spokesperson said: "We want to and are confident of securing a deal this autumn."

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