All-UK customs Brexit deal report is 'speculation' - PM

Rupa Haq MP Trevor Phillips Ayesha Hazarika Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala at the Queen Mary panel. Credit Jonathan Cole

Rupa Haq MP Trevor Phillips Ayesha Hazarika Neema Begum and Sunder Katwala at the Queen Mary panel. Credit Jonathan Cole

Brexit is undermining Northern Ireland's hard-won peace by creating tensions between Catholic and Protestant communities, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Saturday, even as hopes rose for a solution to the Irish border problem that has deadlocked negotiations.

The move comes as May is believed to be closing in on a deal with the European Union (EU) over an insurance plan, or "backstop", meant to avoid border infrastructure between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"The Prime Minister said that there would need to be a mechanism through which the backstop could be brought to an end", a spokesperson added.

Under the banner headline "May's Secret Brexit Deal", the newspaper said she's also on course to gain an agreement on a "future economic partnership" that will allow Britain to keep open the prospect of a similar free-trade accord to the one Canada has with the EU.

"Anything that weakens or softens the Irish Government's position as to the baseline protections that we need is something to be avoided", she said.

"The Irish position remains consistent and v clear that a "time-limited backstop" or a backstop that could be ended by United Kingdom unilaterally would never be agreed to by Ireland or the European Union", Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Twitter. The EU has to date rejected a temporary customs union.

But Downing Street has reportedly dismissed the report as "speculation".

The letter, published in London by the Sunday Times, said: "The business community was promised that, if the country voted to leave, there would continue to be frictionless trade with the European Union and the certainty about future relations that we need to invest for the long term".

The DUP is opposed to a Northern Ireland-specific backstop, since, if it came into effect, it would require Northern Ireland to be more closely aligned with the EU's customs and trade rules than the rest of the UK.

The former attorney general told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "At the end of the day it highlights why the entire enterprise is questionable, because in fact what we are likely to end up with is leaving the European Union but staying in a relationship of sufficient dependency on it without influence as to call into question the whole project".

"We are making good progress on the future relationship, and 95% of the Withdrawal Agreement has been settled".

With the sense that Brexit is moving into a final endgame, "Remain" campaigners are also stepping up efforts to reverse the decision, or at least to force a second referendum on the terms of the UK's departure from the EU.

"So, we think there's a deal to be had if they recognise that the deal is unacceptable to Parliament, I think that opens up a vista of the opportunity of the real negotiations".

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