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Latest: DUP MP accuses Taoiseach of disrespecting the people of the North

Update 7.33pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of disrespecting the people of Northern Ireland by a DUP MP.

    The story so far today:

  • Theresa May pulled out of Brexit deal after Unionists' fury over border proposals, claims Taoiseach;
  • The European Commission President and British PM say no agreement has been reached today;
  • Statement from Taoiseach on reports of special Brexit deal on North is delayed;
  • DUP will not accept any regulatory divergence over border, says Alene Foster;
  • No good reason Scotland can't retain EU regulatory alignment if granted to NI, says Sturgeon;
  • London mayor Sadiq Khan says if UK has agreed deal over single market and custom union for NI, London may look for same;
  • Spokesman for Theresa May refutes report of regulatory alignment for North;
  • Donald Tusk tweets: "Tell me why I like Mondays! Encouraged after my phone call with Taoiseach on progress on Brexit issue of Ireland.

Jim Shannon said the power for Northern Ireland politics rested at Westminster and "certainly doesn't lie" with the Taoiseach.

It came as former shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said the DUP were "holding this Government round the neck" as Theresa May attempted to hold on to power.

Reports suggested that DUP leader Arlene Foster had voiced strong opposition to a proposal she claimed would see Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK, as part of Brexit negotiations over the Irish border.

The British Government's majority in the Commons is dependent on its confidence and supply deal with the DUP at Westminster.

Strangford MP Mr Shannon told Mr Murray: "Will he also acknowledge the disrespect that the Taoiseach has shown to the people of Northern Ireland today, whenever he said that he now speaks for the people of Northern Ireland, and the DUP and other elected parties don't.

"Is it not time that he knows exactly that the power for Northern Ireland, for democracy, for the political process, is here in this chamber.

"And it certainly doesn't lie with Leo Varadkar, as the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland."

Labour MP Mr Murray replied: "I think in the chamber, in the country or anybody who happens to be watching these proceedings will see that the three members of the Democratic Unionist Party that are sitting in this chamber are the real government in this House.

"They are dictating the terms of Brexit. The member who's just intervened on me, the honourable gentleman, is no doubt the de facto secretary of state for exiting the European Union, in terms of the power they have over the Prime Minister.

"It's clear, as I said earlier, that between courses at lunch this afternoon the Prime Minister has gone from a negotiated agreement to a set of texts, to throwing it in the bin alongside any leftovers from the lunch.

"It's clear that the Democratic Unionist Party, 10 members of Parliament from Northern Ireland, are holding this Government to account, are holding this Government round the neck, because it's much more important for the Prime Minister to hold on to power than it is to do what's in the best interest of all of our nations."

Mr Murray had earlier said events in Brussels today were a "farce" and that Mrs Foster "controls the Government" and was "the real de facto Prime Minister in this country".

He also bemoaned the fact that journalists on Twitter appeared to have more information on Mrs May's meetings today than politicians.

DUP MP Ian Paisley (North Antrim) said: "I don't think anyone should get their news constantly from Twitter.

"But on the key point, on all of these clauses, should we not show discernment and skill and make sure that we don't fall for the spin, whether it comes out of Dublin or London or Brussels?

"Let this negotiation run and let's see what comes out of it at the end."

Update 5.25pm: Theresa May pulled out of a possible deal to break the Brexit logjam at the last moment after meeting fierce resistance from Unionists to proposals which would align Northern Ireland's regulations with the Republic, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He told a press conference at Government Buildings: "We do not want a border in the Irish Sea."

Mr Varadkar says the Government had received confirmation from EU negotiators earlier today that agreement had been reached in Brexit talks, and he confirmed Ireland's agreement to the text.

Mr Varadkar said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the break-up of talks, which came after representatives of the UK Government and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier informed Irish negotiators that a form of words had been found which might satisfy the Republic's demand for a "cast-iron guarantee" that there would be no hard border with Northern Ireland after Brexit.

"The Irish negotiating team received confirmation from the British Goverment and the Barnier taskforce that the United Kingdom had agreed a text on the border that met our concerns," said Mr Varadkar.

"This text would form a part of the broader EU/UK agreement on phase one (of the Brexit negotiations) and allow us all to move on to phase two."

He said: "The most difficult issue we faced was to obtain a cast-iron agreement and a written guarantee that there will not be a hard border on this island after Brexit.

"This is not a new issue. Nor has it been given greater prominence in recent weeks, as some people have suggested.

"It has been to the absolute forefront of Ireland’s concerns since before the referendum. I want to offer reassurance that there is no hidden agenda here.

"Our only guiding light is the Good Friday Agreement, which clearly states that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland cannot be changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. That is fundamental to our position.

"We do not want a border in the Irish Sea, any more than we want a border between Newry and Dundalk or Letterkenny and Derry."

Mr Varadkar said that he had confirmed Ireland's agreement to the text to both Mr Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk.

He said the UK had agreed an acceptable deal and that he is surprised and disappointed that the British government has not agreed a deal, but it is "important to listen to the DUP" but it is also important to remember they are only one party in the North.

He said: "I have spoken to Jean-Claude Juncker in the last hour and he confirmed to me that Ireland's position remains Europe's position."

The Taoiseach said a deal looked done this morning that would have allowed negotiations to move to the next stage, and the Irish government were satisfied the text agreed meant we would not see a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Varadkar did say they were hopeful a deal could be reached in the coming days.

He said: "I am surprised and disappointed that the British Government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today.

"I accept that the Prime Minister has asked for more time and I know that she faces many more challenges and I acknowledge that she is negotiating in good faith, but my position and that of the Irish Government is unequivocal and is supported by all the parties in Dáil Eireann and I believe the majority of people on these islands.

"Ireland wants to proceed to phase two - It's very much in our interests to do so. However we cannot agree to do this unless we have firm guarantees that there will not be a hard border in Ireland under any circumstances."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney added that 'effectively the deal was done', but since then there has been a request for more time from the British Prime Minister after the Brexit negotiations broke down during the lunch between Mrs May and Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.

In a message on Twitter following his meeting with Mrs May, Mr Tusk said: "I was ready to present draft EU27 guidelines tomorrow for Brexit talks on transition and future. But UK and Commission asked for more time.

"It is now getting very tight but agreement at December European Council is still possible."

Update 5.19pm: Tories emerging from a briefing with Brexit Minister Steve Baker and Mrs May's chief of staff, Gavin Barwell said they had been told that Mrs May had not agreed the proposal on regulatory alignment put forward by the Irish Government.

Leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the Conservatives were "as one" with the DUP on the importance of keeping the United Kingdom together and the mood among Tory MPs in the meeting was "contented, not divisive or unhappy".

"The mood was better than expected, because it turns out that we haven't decided to dismantle the United Kingdom and give in to the demands of the EU," he told reporters.

On the prospect of Northern Ireland being subject to different rules from the rest of the UK, he said: "I don't think that can possibly happen. The Government doesn't have a majority for that."

Backbench Remain supporter Anna Soubry said: "We were told that nothing has been agreed but nothing ruled out either."

Ms Soubry said that no Conservatives wanted Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK, which she said would be "a gift" to the Scottish National Party. The "simple solution" would be for the whole of the UK to remain in the single market and customs union, she said.

"Nobody could want one part of our country to have a different set of rules to another part of our country," said Ms Soubry. "On that, everybody is agreed."

Update 4.39pm: DUP MP and Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said Mrs May was right to speak to Mrs Foster.

"I think it's only right that the Prime Minister, especially if she's negotiating on things which affect exclusively Northern Ireland, should talk to the leader of the administration in Northern Ireland and she has done so," he told Sky News.

Mr Wilson said regulatory alignment was "simply EU-speak for keeping Northern Ireland inside customs union and inside the single market".

He went on: "And we have made it quite clear, and indeed the Prime Minister has made it quite clear, that we would all be leaving the EU together and that includes Northern Ireland.

"Can I just say, I think that she also probably needs to speak to her own backbenchers because it'll not just be the DUP who will have reservations about this, this (will have) huge implications for her whole negotiating stance and if she gives in on special demands for Northern Ireland then she will be giving in on special demands for Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom.

"It's a unionist nightmare."

Update 4.30pm: Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage called on Mrs May to "leave office now".

Regulatory alignment in Ireland would be "a bitter betrayal" of the 17.4 million people who voted for EU withdrawal, said Mr Farage, adding: "It is a concession too far, for it will lead to endless problems in Scotland and it damages the integrity of the United Kingdom."

And he said reports that Mrs May was ready to allow a role for the European Court of Justice in overseeing EU citizens' rights in post-Brexit Britain were "utterly unacceptable".

"Theresa May has got to go," said Mr Farage. "If we want to leave the EU, she's got to leave office now."

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: "This whole situation could have been solved by keeping the entire country in the single market and the customs union. Instead, Theresa May has cowered in front of her backbenchers and driven forward a reckless Brexit which risks destabilising the whole UK.

"As each day goes by, it becomes clearer that the best deal for everyone is to stay in Europe. The people of the UK must be given a vote on the deal and an opportunity to exit from Brexit."

The executive director of the Open Britain campaign against hard Brexit, James McGrory, said: "One of the few things that generates agreement on Brexit is that it must not be allowed in any way to compromise the integrity of our United Kingdom. It appears today, however, to be doing just that.

"There is a solution that would solve all of these problems for the Government, which is to keep the whole of the UK in the single market and the customs union. That would avoid a hard border in Ireland, ensure a level playing field for businesses across our islands, and protect trade with the EU, which buys almost half of everything we export."

Update 3.56pm: The European Commission President has said no agreement has been reached today.

There has been no agreement on the Brexit "divorce deal" in talks in Brussels, he has said.

Mr Juncker said the meeting was "friendly and constructive".

He went on: "I have to say that she's a tough negotiator, and not an easy one, and she's defending the point of view of Britain with all the energy we know she has, and this is the same on the side of the European Union.

"Despite our best efforts and significant progress we and our teams have made over the past days on the three main withdrawal issues, it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today.

"We now have a common understanding on most relevant issues, with just two or three open for discussion.

"These will require further consultation, further negotiation and further discussions.

"We stand ready to resume the negotiations with the United Kingdom here in Brussels later this week.

"But I have to say that we were narrowing our positions to a huge extent today, thanks to the British Prime Minister, thanks to the willingness of the European Commission to have a fair deal with Britain.

"I'm still confident that we can reach sufficient progress before the European Council of December 15.

"This is not a failure, this is the start of the very last round. I'm very confident that we will reach an agreement in the course of this week."

Mrs May said: "We have had a constructive meeting today. Both sides have been working hard in good faith.

"We have been negotiating hard. And a lot of progress has been made. And on many of the issues there is a common understandng.

"And it is clear, crucially, that we want to move forward together. But on a couple of issues some differences do remain which require further negotiation and consultation.

"And those will continue, but we will reconvene before the end of the week and I am also confident that we will conclude this positively."

The British Prime Minister is to meet European Council president Donald Tusk this afternoon.

Update 3.52pm: Reuters are reporting a DUP source has said Arlene Foster spoke to Theresa May following the DUP's statement on Brexit.

Update 2.28pm: A statement from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Brexit, which was scheduled for 2.30pm, has been postponed until later this afternoon.

It is delayed because the Government has not yet received notification from Brussels as a meeting between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker is continuing.

Update 2.13pm: DUP will not accept any regulatory divergence over border, says Alene Foster

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster has said that her party will not accept "any form regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the UK".

It comes as a deal is close to finalisation that could see a hard border avoided by ensuring no change of key laws between the EU and post-Brexit Britain.

Speaking at Stormont, she said: "We note the speculation emanating from the European Union exit talks regarding the Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom border.

"We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom.

"We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.

"Her Majesty's Government understands the DUP position.

"The Prime Minister has told the House of Commons that there will be no border in the Irish Sea.

"The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected.

"We want to see a sensible Brexit where the Common Travel Area is continued, we meet our financial obligations, have a strictly time-limited implementation period and where the contribution of EU migrants to our economy is recognised in a practical manner.

"The Republic of Ireland claim to be guarantors of the Belfast Agreement but they are clearly seeking to unilaterally change the Belfast Agreement without our input or consent."

After she finished her statement, Ms Foster did not answer a reporter's question about the status of the confidence and supply deal.

Nationalist political parties in Northern Ireland have backed giving the North a form of "special status" to allow it to remain in the customs union and single market and thereby reduce the likelihood of border controls or regulations.

However, the DUP have rejected this on the grounds that they will not accept Northern Ireland being treated any differently from the rest of the UK in the final Brexit deal.

Earlier, former leader of the Ulster Unionists and ex-Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble said he was left "shocked" and "scratching his head" at reports of a deal allowing continued regulatory alignment across the border.

"I hope that there is still an opportunity for the Prime Minister to claw back from what is being said to the media at the moment."

Asked about how his colleagues in Parliament would react to such a deal, Lord Trimble, who sits as a Conservative peer, said: "I am surprised and I think my colleagues in Parliament will be surprised too.

"I am hoping that the reality is somewhat different from what is being reported.

"If it is as has been suggested, then I think this is a very, very big issue indeed."

Update 1.49pm: No good reason Scotland can't retain EU regulatory alignment if granted to NI, says Sturgeon

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon responded to reports that Northern Ireland and the Republic could maintain regulatory alignment by saying there was no good reason that Scotland could not do the same with the EU and "effectively stay in the single market".

She tweeted: "If one part of UK can retain regulatory alignment with EU and effectively stay in the single market (which is the right solution for Northern Ireland) there is surely no good practical reason why others can't."

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson, whose party is effectively keeping Mrs May in Downing Street in a confidence and supply deal with the minority Tory Government, warned her not to proceed with regulatory alignment.

He said: "I think that this is emanating from the Irish Government, obviously, trying to push the UK Government into a corner in the negotiations.

"It is not well thought through. I don't think, given its promises, the British Government could concede on this."

Earlier, European Council president Donald Tusk said that Britain and the European Union were "getting closer" to making the required "sufficient progress" on the border issue for him to recommend that negotiations move on to trade and a transition period.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to make a statement on the negotiations at 2.30pm.

Update 12.48pm: Juncker meets Varadkar ahead of talks with British PM, Reports UK to make 'regulatory' concessions on North

European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has held talks with Taoiseach Leo Vardakar minutes before meeting British leader Theresa May for key Brexit discussions today.

The European Commission president spoke to the Taoiseach ahead of a lunch with the UK Prime Minister which could have a crucial bearing on whether Brexit talks move on to trade and a transition deal by next year.

Mrs May smiled and shook hands with Mr Juncker as she arrived in Brussels but did not respond to reporters' questions.

Downing Street has responded to reports of a draft agreement that there will be "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by insisting the UK's "territorial and economic integrity will be protected".

Movement on the border issue is required for Mrs May to get Ireland's agreement to move on to critical talks on a trade and transition deal at the European Council summit of EU leaders on December 14-15.

Her talks with Mr Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk on Monday could have a crucial bearing on whether she is able to secure the necessary "sufficient progress" at the Brussels summit.

Brexit Secretary David Davis has acknowledged it is an "important day".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Simon Coveney are due to make a statement on the issue this afternoon.

Update 11.46am: Spokesman for Theresa May refutes report of regulatory alignment for North

The official spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May has this morning denied reports that Britain will concede that there will be "continued regulatory alignment" between Ireland and Northern Ireland to protect the soft border.

He told a regular Westminster briefing: "The PM has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected."

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has said despite reports in a French publication that a deal is done on Brexit, it's his understanding that "there's no deal currently."

He said: "From the Taoiseach's perspective, he wants to ensure that the Cabinet are not just briefed but give him the kind of manoeuvring, if you like, to the get the final deal done, because if it's only a matter of text, which it is, and if it's a matter of coming to agreement on principles as this will be, I think he will want the Cabinet to speak with one voice."



Update 11.27am:  Latest: UK likely to concede no 'regulatory divergence' on the island of Ireland on customs union - reports

The UK are likley to concede no "regulatory divergence" on the island of Ireland on the single market and customs union, according to reports.

RTÉ are reporting that the concession, if accepted by the Irish Government, would have far reaching implications for how closely Northern Ireland remains bound to EU structures.

A meeting of the Cabinet is said to be reviewing details of the British government proposals this morning.

A European Commission spokesman later said that Mr Juncker's talks with European Parliament figures and the working lunch with Mrs May were intended "to come as close as possible to what could be a deal, an agreement, for the heads of state or government to consider".

Update 10.53am:  Deal on Brexit unlikely to be reached today but Simon Harris confident deal will be made 

A deal to move Brexit negotiations onto the next stage is unlikely to be reached today.

It appears progress has been made by officials from Dublin, London and Brussels - but not enough to see a deal through.

The border with Northern Ireland is the sticking point in talks, with the Tánaiste demanding guarantees that there will be no return to checkpoints and a hard border.

Speaking on his way into a special cabinet meeting Health Minister Simon Harris said he hopes a deal can be reached.

"We want to make sure the Good Friday Agreement is protected. We want to make sure their is no regulatory divergence and we want to make sure we can keep as close a relationship both trading and in many other ways wth Britain and Northern Ireland.

"We are entering a number of critically important days. Ireland and the other side are continuing to work incredibly hard on this lead by the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste."

Update 9am: Ireland will 'hold firm' on bid to prevent hard border, says Coveney

Tanaiste Simon Coveney has insisted Ireland will "hold firm" on its bid to prevent a hard border even if the stand-off risks derailing the entire Brexit process, writes Fiachra O Cionnaith.

The Foreign Affairs Minister made the comment after Irish, British and EU officials failed to ensure there is a deal on the key issue in overnight talks just hours before a crucial Brexit deadline.

As reported in today's Irish Examiner, talks went Long into last night on the issue yesterday amid growing fears a deal may not be reached on the Irish border.

This is because of ongoing questions over the credibility of the British plan to leave the customs union while still ensuring there is a soft border in the island of Ireland.

A deal must be reached on the issue - alongside the separate divorce deal and citizens' rights points - in order to allow the Brexit talks to go to the key second stage trade deal discussions from December 14-15.

However, without an agreement from Ireland, the Brexit discussions risk being derailed over the border - with British prime minister Theresa May travelling to Brussels today to meet with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and European Council president Donald Tusk this afternoon.

On Friday, Mr Tusk told reporters in Dublin that Ireland will effectively decide for the EU if enough progress has been reached on the border issue.

And while the situation could bring Brexit talks to a shuddering halt, Speaking before an emergency 9am cabinet meeting solely on the stand-off, Mr Coveney told RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland programme the Government will "hold firm" on the issue.

"Yes," he said when asked.

"We need a wording which makes it very clear for everybody on the island of Ireland that in the future there is not going to be a re-emergency of a border on the island of Ireland," he said.

Earlier:

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste will update the Cabinet on the state of Brexit negotiations this morning.

A special meeting has been convened after negotiations on the border over the weekend.

It was hoped that over lunch in Brussels this afternoon British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker would be looking at a menu of offers that could move Brexit talks on.

There is thought to be broad agreement on UK's divorce bill and citizen's rights, but the issue of the border has proven more difficult to resolve.

Officials from Dublin and London had been negotiating for most of the weekend, but there seems to be no deal that keeps everyone happy.

Leo Varadkar wants absolutely to avoid a hard border and checkpoints between north and south, and wants that commitment in writing in Brexit agreements.

Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney will present what answers they have to Cabinet this morning, but it is likely they will say not enough has been done by the UK to move talks to the next stage.