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United Kingdom must be able to withdraw from Irish backstop — Liam Fox

United Kingdom must be able to withdraw from Irish backstop — Liam Fox

Theresa May faced a fresh Brexit headache as her plans risked a rift with her Democratic Unionist Party allies.

Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve said a border in the Irish Sea would be "unacceptable".

In February, Mrs May told the Commons that a draft deal by the European Union "would, if implemented, undermine the United Kingdom common market and threaten the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish Sea, and no United Kingdom prime minister could ever agree to it". Mrs May has previously insisted no United Kingdom prime minister could ever agree to such proposals.

Brussels has said the United Kingdom will not be able to dissolve the backstop without agreement from the EU.

But Brussels appears set to insist on a Northern Ireland-only "backstop to the backstop" in case negotiations on a wider United Kingdom approach break down.

Mrs May says in the letter that the European Union is still pushing for a "backstop to the backstop".

Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said, however, that major progress in Brexit talks was likely "within a week", based on his discussions with several visiting EU leaders and European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs summits of the EU's 28 leaders.

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May's Cabinet has been inching closer to agreeing a common stance on the key issue - maintaining an open border between European Union member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the EU.

The Prime Minister relies on the support of the DUP's 10 MPs for her Commons majority, votes which may become crucial as she attempts to get a deal through Parliament. Last night a Downing Street spokesman said: 'The Prime Minister's letter sets out her never accepting any circumstances in which the United Kingdom is divided into two customs territories'.

"The Government will not agree anything that brings about a hard border on the island of Ireland".

Any version of the backstop would apply unless and until a wider UK-EU deal on the future relationship solved the issue of how to avoid a hard border with Ireland.

The European elections will be the first of the post-Brexit era.

Senior ministers have been invited into a private reading room in a building adjoining May's offices to examine the 95 percent of the withdrawal package that's been agreed so far, according to people familiar with the matter.

Brexiters are adamant that there must be a mechanism that would allow the United Kingdom to leave, and many back one that would allow the United Kingdom to withdraw unilaterally - without Brussels' consent - which has been rejected by figures such as the Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar.