December 11, 2018

Several top ministers anxious United Kingdom could stay in EU customs union indefinitely

12 October 2018, 10:58 | Austin Hogan

Theresa May looking isolated in Salzburg

Theresa May looking isolated in Salzburg

But Cabinet sources said senior ministers were expected to consider the backstop plan when they met this afternoon with a view to getting the backing of the full Cabinet next Tuesday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May briefed her inner cabinet on Thursday evening that a historic Brexit deal was close, the Financial Times reported Thursday.

She added: "The Prime Minister is a Unionist". High stakes at high noon for these Brexit negotiations.

Both sides have made positive signals in recent days though also indicated they were still short of a deal, which would define the divorce terms and include an European Union declaration stating that it would seek the closest possible ties with Britain after Brexit ranging from trade to security to research.

The agreement will also see Northern Ireland remain within the single market in a bid to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, should both sides fail to secure a trade deal after the transition period.

The radical move is one of the options being considered by the DUP if attempts to nail down a deal with Brussels include any proposals that would leave Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the United Kingdom, the Press Association understands.

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Brexiteers and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists reacted angrily to the proposal, which Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said meant a Brexit deal was now "within reach" by next week's key European Council. "We are a small economy and one wrong push on the pedal could significantly impact our economy", said Tina McKenzie, the chair of the policy forum for the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland. Another summit in November is planned to close the deal.

Suspicions remain among hardline Tory Brexiteers that Mrs May is heading for a compromise which could tie the United Kingdom to European Union customs arrangements indefinitely - something which Boris Johnson has warned would reduce the United Kingdom to a "permanent European Union colony".

The DUP has 10 MPs, although Ian Paisley can not vote in the Commons until November 20 after being suspended for failing to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

Theresa May is having a tougher time convincing her own MPs and those of the DUP, who prop-up her government.

Labour demands that Britain retain "the exact same" perks it now has within the EU's customs union and single market - something May's so-called Chequers plan does not meet and which the EU rules out since London chose to leave both.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), which was also at the meeting, said the deal on the table was uniquely beneficial to Northern Ireland's economy, which would suffer disproportionately from Brexit.

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