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Grieve: May's plans make whole Brexit process questionable

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Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

The Brexit figurehead was responding to reports that Prime Minister Theresa May is close to striking a deal with Brussels which would allow the creation of a whole-UK customs union, avoiding the need for the Northern Ireland border "backstop" that has been at the heart of the impasse in negotiations.

Asked about the report, a spokesman at May's office said: "This is all speculation".

The Irish border has proved the biggest obstacle to a deal, with both sides vowing not to reinstate a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland for fear of destabilizing a peace accord that ended decades of deadly sectarian violence.

May is under intense pressure from several members of her cabinet to secure a mechanism by which any backstop agreements can be time limited and able to be terminated by the UK.

This would also completely avoid the need for a "backstop" solution, which would have seen a hard border return between the Republic Of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Without such a development, sources suggested the only viable option would be to leave the deal until the leaders' summit in Brussels on 13 December.

He said: "It doesn't solve a fundamental problem, which is that if the agreement is still based on the Chequers plan - if it involves the so-called common rule book i.e. regulatory alignment of all sorts of manufactured goods between the European Union and United Kingdom - it will not satisfy the Brexiteers in any way and will be a crucial stumbling block for her".

United Kingdom officials, however, suggested a summit could be a called with a week's notice, and were indicating that they believed one could be held in the week beginning 26 November, just before May and other leaders fly out on 29 November for the G20 in Argentina.

He was supported by the EU's deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand who tweeted, "still necessary to repeat this, it seems".

Mr Raab's proposal was put to the Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney in a private meeting in London last Tuesday, but three days later was apparently contradicted by David Lidington, the UK's de facto deputy prime minister, on a visit to Dublin.

"These ideas are not backstops at all and don't deliver on previous United Kingdom commitments".

She is instead pursuing regulatory alignment with the EU and a "backstop" which would keep the entire country in the Customs Union as a "compromise" - but this would effectively preclude Britain from regaining an independent trade policy after Brexit.

"Theresa May came from "not in a customs union" to being temporarily in a customs union".

In other developments on Brexit yesterday, the former Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said that negotiations were ongoing, amid reports that major concessions had been made by Brussels.

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