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UK could be set for Brexit without deal after DUP pull the plug

By Suzanne Breen

Senior DUP sources have warned that the UK could be heading towards no deal on Brexit after a shambolic day in Brussels.

Theresa May pulled out at the last minute from an agreement with the EU after meeting fierce resistance from Arlene Foster's party.

She will be back in Brussels for further talks later this week but DUP insiders last night said the chances of a deal were diminishing rapidly.

"It's back to the drawing-board," a party source said. "Theresa May is caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of what she can do.

"We have made it clear that we will not tolerate any political or economic threat to Northern Ireland's position in the UK.

"There is no room for ambiguity in any deal and there is no confusion in Brussels, London or Dublin about our stance either."

A no deal scenario would spell disaster for the Republic with World Trade Organisation rules then applying.

Westminster sources also claimed the text of the proposed agreement had caused ructions among Tory backbenchers.

They said at a meeting yesterday with Mrs May's chief of staff Gavin Barwell, "several dozen" MPs had warned they wouldn't "agree to a border in the Irish Sea" and supported the DUP's position on "maintaining the constitutional integrity of the UK".

Crunch talks between Mrs May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker ended in Brussels yesterday without a deal after the DUP made clear it would not accept any arrangement which saw Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the break-up of talks just hours after all sides confirmed they were satisfied with a text which would guarantee "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and the Republic in order to prevent the imposition of a hard border.

Downing Street made no response to Mr Varadkar's claim. But it is understood that, as well as the impasse over the Border, disagreement remains over the role of the European Court of Justice in overseeing EU citizens' rights in the UK after Brexit.

Both Mrs May and Mr Juncker insisted they were "confident" of reaching agreement in time for a key summit of the European Council on December 14, when leaders of the remaining 27 EU states will decide whether enough progress has been made to start trade talks.

Some reports indicate that Mrs May will travel to Brussels again tomorrow to meet Mr Juncker and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Mrs May arrived for her lunchtime talks with Mr Juncker yesterday with expectations high for a breakthrough on the remaining "divorce" issues.

But the text of the draft agreement was leaked, the DUP refused to accept concessions made they said would effectively establish a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Speaking at Stormont, Mrs Foster said: "We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom.

"We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom."

Mrs May then broke off from talks with Mr Juncker to speak by phone with the DUP leader and it was shortly afterwards confirmed that talks were ending without a deal.

Ulster Unionist Party chairman, Lord Empey, said yesterday's events raised questions regarding "who knew what and when so the public can assess who is responsible for this shambles". He said the DUP were either not as influential as they claimed and were not consulted in advance by the government, or they were consulted but didn't appreciate the implications and were "asleep at the wheel".

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