Financial Times reports: UK PM Theresa May says Brexit deal is close

Irving Hamilton
October 12, 2018

In a move which ratchets up the pressure on Downing Street, Arlene Foster's party say they are ready to block the budget and potentially topple the prime minister unless they receive sufficient reassurances that there will be no Irish Sea border post-Brexit.

Cabinet ministers briefed on the Brexit talks said the issue of the Irish backstop was close to being settled, the FT said.

However Brexiteers - including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab - are insisting any arrangement which would see the United Kingdom effectively remain part of the customs union while negotiations over a free trade deal take place must be strictly time-limited - something the EU has been resisting. Many Cabinet ministers last night warned May that the plan simply would not pass through the Commons if it did not contain a time-limited provision because it would look like the United Kingdom had agreed to an endless customs union with Europe, the BBC reported.

Media captionHelen Grant on the DUP: "I think they are bluffing".

The DUP's Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson has warned the British government against doing a deal that keeps Northern Ireland in the single market after Brexit.

"Whether Theresa May is the leader of the Conservative Party is a matter for the Conservative Party", she told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme. She must negotiate a deal that is acceptable to the European Union, her own Cabinet, to backbench Tory MPs, and the DUP, groups which have diametrically opposed interests.

Mr Major famously branded rebellious Eurosceptics during his premiership "b*****s", but said those making life hard for Mrs May were even worse.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, who wasn't at the meeting, has repeatedly refused to endorse the prime minister's Chequers blueprint for Brexit.

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"Our position is that this future economic relationship needs to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest".

The South Belfast MP added that if a "sensible Brexit" was not delivered, the DUP's support for Mrs May would not be forthcoming.

To compound the British PM's troubles, the ruling party's Northern Irish allies - Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) - are threatening to pull out their support and effectively bring down the Tory government if May gave in to the European Union demands over the Irish border issue ahead of a crucial summit in Brussels next week.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said yesterday that a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement is "within reach", but only if Britain remains in a customs union with the EU.

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major, meanwhile, has said he has "great sympathy" for Mrs May, telling the BBC's Political Thinking podcast that "the way she's being treated by some of her colleagues is absolutely outrageous".

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and the Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom also said to have "deep concerns".

"If people are sitting in cabinet they either support the government's policy or they don't sit in cabinet", Sir John said.

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