EU Commission sets Sunday deadline after 'no white smoke' on Brexit deal

EU Commission sets Sunday deadline after 'no white smoke' on Brexit deal

Pressure is growing on Mrs May to get leaders at the December 14 European Council summit to declare sufficient progress has been made on divorce issues so trade talks can begin, with business chiefs warning companies will activate contingency plans that will cost Britain jobs if there is further delay.

Britain leaves the European Union on March 29, 2019, but negotiations must be wrapped up within a year to leave time for parliaments to endorse any deal. Everyone recognises that there are special circumstances that apply in Northern Ireland and that everything must be done to avoid a return to the borders of the past, but the deal that was on the table earlier this week was a failure of logic, diplomacy, and political common sense.

The party has said it will not accept any agreement in which Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK.

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker's chief of staff Martin Selmayr tweeted a picture of white smoke - the sign used by the Vatican to signify the election of a new pope - shortly after May's arrival.

With Brexit, the United Kingdom is leaving the EU's customs union - but Mr Grayling said this did not mean there would need to be a physical border with people carrying out border checks.

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Jonathan Powell, who was an adviser to Tony Blair during the Northern Ireland peace process, doubted whether a solution could be found.

But Mr Grayling, a key Leave campaigner in the 2016 referendum, said: "We don't have to have, and we've never said we will, and we don't want, to have a situation where in future our laws are identical to the European Union".

But EU sources said it was still possible that European leaders could agree at the summit next week that there had been "sufficient progress", in order to give May a win, while postponing their approval of the guidelines for trade talks. Leo Varadkar said he was happy with a draft agreement including alignment of regulatory regimes on the island of Ireland in the agriculture and energy sectors.

Meanwhile, senior ministers came under attack over their positions on Brexit as Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed the Cabinet had not yet discussed details of the UK's preferred long-term relationship with the EU.

Scotland's nationalist leader showed little patience, accusing the British government of being "totally and utterly incompetent" on Brexit.

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