Foster rejects Irish sea border after Barnier meeting

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Michel Barnier has said that a Brexit deal is "within reach" by next Wednesday but warned that the only way to avoid border checks in the Irish Sea is if Britain stays in a customs union with Brussels.

Technical talks are continuing at official level in Brussels this week, but no visit by Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has been announced, and Downing Street would say only that new proposals on the border issue would be released "in due course".

DUP leader Arlene Foster has repeated her insistence that there should be no customs or regulatory barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and said she had made this clear to the British Prime Minister Theresa May.

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The European Union has demanded such division if the border with the Republic of Ireland can not be kept open or the entire United Kingdom does not remain inside the bloc's Customs Union - as Mrs May is now reportedly considering after Brexit.

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An angry DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up the Conservative Government, threatened to vote down the Autumn Budget, and last night sent a warning shot by abstaining in a vote on a Labour amendment to the Agriculture Bill.

Budget motions are generally seen as a vote of confidence, which means the ominous threat from the DUP could cast doubt on Mrs May's future.

Conservative MP Steve Baker said on Tuesday that at least 40 of his colleagues are ready to vote against a deal which included that solution because it would represent a "half in, half out Brexit".

One complicating factor is that keeping Northern Ireland in the single market would have to be agreed by the Stormont Assembly, which has not met since collapsing in January 2017.

"If the Government is putting these proposals into the public domain to test the water, our advice is to get its toe out quickly or it is going to get burnt", he said. Michael Russell will be there representing the Scottish Government and is expected to once again sound the alarm about the damage to Scotland's economy a hard or no-deal Brexit would do.

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"I understand why such procedures are politically sensitive but".

He warned the UK's trade proposals would give its companies a "huge competitive edge" over European Union rivals.

Earlier Mrs May urged MPs to "put the national interest first" when deciding whether to approve the Brexit deal in a crunch vote likely later this year.

Commenting on the Irish backstop, Barnier said the EU's plan to keep Northern Ireland in the Single Market and customs union would help keep the border invisible - a goal of both sets of negotiators.

However, if an agreement could be reached, the European Union will have 10 "parallel negotiating teams" ready to start drawing up the details straight after Brexit day, he added.

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