UK and EU officials hold weekend Brexit talks

EU and British officials are to continue Brexit talks over the weekend amid speculation a deal is possible, which could break the deadlock over the border.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, gave the green light yesterday for intensive discussions between officials to start.

Mr Barnier is due to brief EU ambassadors and MEPs on Monday on progress.

With UK officials remaining tight-lipped, there has been intense speculation over what was said at the talks at Thornton Manor between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which enabled the process to move forward.

The discussions focused heavily on the issues of the customs arrangements and the proposed “consent” mechanism for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The EU strongly objected to a proposal in Mr Johnson’s Brexit blueprint for Northern Ireland to leave the customs union together with the rest of the UK – meaning the return of customs controls on the island of Ireland.

The bloc is also concerned that a proposal in the British plan for Northern Ireland to remain tied to EU Single Market rules for trade in goods could be vetoed before it had even got off the ground by the DUP.
There has been speculation that Mr Johnson could now try to revive a compromise proposal first put forward by former prime minister Theresa May that would see Northern Ireland remain politically in a customs union with the EU, but that it would be administered by the UK.

Speaking during a school visit yesterday, Mr Johnson was adamant he would not accept any arrangement which damaged the ability of “the whole of the United Kingdom” to take full advantage of Brexit, including any new trade deals struck with countries around the world.

Meanwhile, the DUP warned they would only back measures that were in the “long-term economic and constitutional interests ” of Northern Ireland.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “To secure a sensible deal for everyone the European Union must understand that to maximise the prospects of the agreement there will need to be a clear acceptance that the economic and constitutional integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom will have to be respected as we leave.

“As a consequence of the mandate given to us by voters in 2017 (general election), the DUP is very relevant in the parliamentary arithmetic and regardless of the ups and downs of the Brexit discussions that have not changed.”