Irish border row thwarts May bid to clinch Brexit trade deal

by
December 5, 2017

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May failed to clinch a deal on Monday to open talks on post-Brexit free trade with the European Union after a tentative deal with Dublin to keep EU rules in Northern Ireland angered her allies in Belfast.

The British leader had sat down to lunch with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hoping that a last-minute offer to the Irish government of “regulatory alignment” on both sides of a new UK-EU land border would remove a last obstacle to the EU open talks next week on future trade.

Yet as May and Juncker spoke in Brussels and the pound rose on prospects of free trade and perhaps a very “soft Brexit”, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) issued an uncompromising reiteration of its refusal to accept any “divergence” from rules on the British mainland.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar cancelled a news conference and the pound fell back, losing a cent against the dollar, as May and Juncker emerged to say there was still not “sufficient progress” on divorce terms to move ahead.

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