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Brexit talks enter crucial 'tunnel' phase, but gaps on substance remain

Brexit talks enter crucial 'tunnel' phase, but gaps on substance remain

Boris Johnson's government is set to enter intensive "tunnel" negotiations with the European Union over a possible Brexit deal ahead of a crunch summit in Brussels next weekend, in a major boost for the prospect of an agreement before the October 31 deadline.

The key sticking point in the Brexit negotiations is how to handle trade and customs on the border between European Union member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

Barnier's team has always been in "technical talks" with British officials, but without making enough progress towards a treaty text that could forestall a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit on Oct 31.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, sounded a philosophical note on Friday, telling reporters that "Brexit is like climbing a mountain". In what would doubtlessly be a big climb-down, Johnson acknowledged there ought to be no customs border on the island of Eire, two officers stated.

The plan is meant to avoid the need for customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic. "That doesn't imply it's a accomplished deal". With suggestions that Johnson had proposed keeping the North in a customs union-i.e., separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, with a border down the Irish Sea-and replacing the double veto with a simple majority vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP reiterated its opposition to any backstop arrangement being implemented.

The stepped-up negotiations came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar held a meeting on Thursday that both sides dubbed "promising".

European Council President Donald Tusk said Friday he could see the talks in Brussels going through the weekend, ahead of the EU summit, which starts Thursday. "The Prime Minister is very mindful of that", DUP leader Arlene Foster has been quoted by the Belfast Telegraph as saying.

More news: EU’s Donald Tusk sees 'promising' signals for a Brexit deal

Mr Dodds told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that Northern Ireland "must stay in a full United Kingdom customs union, full stop".

Unionists have pledged to stop any Brexit deal that keeps Northern Ireland in the EU Customs Union, amidst reports that Boris Johnson is preparing to do precisely that in order to secure a Brexit deal with Brussels.

If a deal did emerge, Mr Johnson would also need the backing of the DUP and Eurosceptic Tories to have any chance of getting it through without opposition support.

"Of course there is no guarantee of success and the time is practically up but even the slightest chance must be used".

MPs pushing for a fresh referendum are expected to try to secure one next weekend when parliament will sit on a Saturday for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Seeking to ensure that Johnson's minority government is not able to hold a general election on his terms, with the Tories claiming to represent the "will of the people" on Brexit, as defined by the 2016 referendum result, they have stepped up their plotting.