THERESA MAY left Brexit talks in Brussels without a deal yesterday after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) rejected a proposed solution to the Irish border problem.
After meeting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister said that “on a couple of issues, some differences do remain.”
Shortly before Ms May admitted that efforts to reach agreement had failed, the DUP vowed to block any Brexit deal that would “separate” Northern Ireland from Britain.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party, which props up Ms May’s Tory minority government, would not allow “any form of regulatory divergence.”
How to maintain a “soft” Irish border has emerged as the obstacle to getting agreement from the EU to move on to phase two of negotiations after Ms May agreed to pay a £50 billion leaving fee and guaranteed that EU citizens in Britain will retain residency rights after Brexit takes effect — something Labour had demanded from day one.
Regulatory alignment could mean Northern Ireland following the same rules on trade as the rest of Ireland — as the republic would remain an EU member — to ensure that goods can continue to move freely across the border without checks.
But Ms Foster made clear that the DUP would oppose the deal if it would lead to a new border being effectively drawn between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in the event that the Westminster government decided to diverge from EU rules.
The reports of a deal on regulatory alignment prompted the Scottish and Welsh first ministers, who both favoured a Remain vote, to argue that their countries should be allowed to stay in the single market even if England leaves.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “If one part of the UK is granted continued participation in the single market and customs union, then we fully expect to be made the same offer.”
A majority of Scottish and Northern Irish residents voted to remain in the EU, although in Wales as in England more people voted to leave.
And London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted that there would be “huge ramifications for London if Theresa May has conceded that it’s possible for part of the UK to remain within the single market and customs union after Brexit.”