British PM May briefed inner cabinet 'Brexit deal close'

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The EU has launched a direct sales pitch to Northern Ireland businesses in an attempt to drive a wedge between the Democratic Unionist party and Theresa May over the backstop solution for the Irish border in Brexit negotiations.

THERESA May will chair a meeting of her War Cabinet of senior ministers today to try to agree an Irish backstop plan that would keep all of the United Kingdom in the European customs union until a full trade deal can be agreed with Brussels.

Talk of a draft deal having been agreed in Brussels on the Irish backstop was rubbished by Whitehall insiders, who urged caution.

The de-facto Deputy Prime Minister was pressed on the DUP's support when he appeared on ITV's Peston on Wednesday night. He called British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab "able and highly intelligent".

In 2016, Britain's surplus in services trade came to nearly £100 billion. Why would a Unionist politician want to bring down a Conservative and Unionist government, lose the influence it has on that administration and risk the extra funding for Northern Ireland that the DUP received in exchange for agreeing to support the Tory minority government?

But this could see checks on goods travelling from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland - what Foster described as "an effective one-way turnstile".

DUP leader Arlene Foster warned ministers they "could not in good conscience" proceed with plans believed to have been agreed between European Union and United Kingdom negotiators to beef up regulators checks between Northern Ireland and Britain.

In Brussels, a spokesman for the European Commission dampened speculation about a breakthrough, saying "we're not there yet".

A senior European Union official has revealed that, with just a week to go before the official deadline for a deal, there has not yet been a breakthrough in Brexit talks. He said it could result in three scenarios: going back to Brussels to renegotiate, holding a general election, and a referendum. 'An very bad lot depends on the talks in the coming days'.

By withdrawing its support, the DUP could make it hard for May to pass legislation through parliament, including the budget which will be voted on later this month.

Theresa May relies on DUP support in key votes because she does not have a majority in the House of Commons. She needs to keep either her own party onside or attract votes from the main opposition Labour Party.

She added that Northern Ireland was not being offered the "best of both worlds".

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), which was also at the meeting, said the deal on the table was uniquely beneficial to Northern Ireland's economy, which would suffer disproportionately from Brexit.