British PM voices confidence on Brexit deal

LONDON –  British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday voiced confidence in striking a deal that would allow Britain to open negotiations on post-Brexit trade ties with the EU despite this week’s setback.

“We are at the point of progressing to the next stage,” May told parliament in London, after Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) blocked a proposed agreement on the Irish border being discussed in Brussels on Monday. “We will ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“We will do that while we respect the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and we will be able to do that while we respect the internal market of the United Kingdom,” she said.

The DUP is Northern Ireland’s biggest party. It is pro-British and backs Brexit. It has been propping up May’s government in London ever since a general election in June in which she lost her Conservative parliamentary majority. The DUP said it only saw a draft copy of the proposed deal on Monday.

The party opposed the agreement because it said it wanted no “regulatory divergence” between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“Now we need to look at the text, make it clear what we cannot agree with and try to work through all of that,” DUP leader Arlene Foster said on Tuesday. A DUP spokesman said Foster and May spoke on the phone on Wednesday. “There is still work to be done — primarily in London,” he told AFP.

The EU has said Britain must make “sufficient progress” in negotiations on the Irish border, the future status of expatriate citizens and a financial agreement to unlock negotiations on post-Brexit trade arrangements.

EU leaders have given May a deadline of the end of this week to resolve outstanding issues in order to draft an agenda in time for a crucial EU summit on December 14-15 and open this second phase of talks. However, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar raised the prospect of going into January.

He told parliament in Dublin that he wanted to start the next phase of EU-UK talks addressing post-Brexit trade and acknowledged it was in Ireland’s interests.

“We want to move to phase two but if it is not possible to move to phase two next week then we can pick it up in the new year,” he said. Varadkar said he stood by the text of a draft deal “agreed” on Monday.

He also said the DUP did not represent everybody in Northern Ireland and other voices needed to be taken into consideration.

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