No Brexit agreement ‘despite best efforts’

Mrs May and Mr Juncker said their meeting was constructive

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said it was not possible to reach complete agreement between himself and UK Prime Minister Theresa May despite their “best efforts” during a long working lunch today.

However Mr Juncker and Mrs May said another round of formal talks will take place at the end of this week in a bid to resolve remaining sticking points.

Mr Juncker said he was “still confident we can reach sufficient progress before the European Council of December 15.”

He said the parties “now have a common understanding on most relevant issues, with just two or three open for discussion,” and the EU is ready to resume discussions with the UK.

The sides “narrowed our positions to a huge extent today”, he said, adding: “This is not a failure and I’m confident we will reach agreement in this very last round.”

Mrs May said both sides had worked hard in good faith and a lot of progress had been made.

“It’s clear, crucially, that we want to move on together…. And I am also confident that we will conclude this positively.”

The race is on to come to what the EU calls ‘sufficient progress’ on all the key elements of the exit deal, that is to say expat rights, the Northern Ireland border and the exit bill.

Northern Ireland has been the most controversial issue in these last days, and the UK is rumoured to have offered to accept ‘regulatory alignment’ of Northern Ireland with Ireland as a strategy to make a ‘hard border’ unnecessary.

This is said to equate to much the same as Northern Ireland staying in the EU's single market and customs union, which the UK had said it wants to leave.

The rumours have already sparked controversy, with the DUP party, on whose support Mrs May’s Conservatives rely for a majority in parliament, saying it does not want a different regime in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Meanwhile the first minister of Scotland and the mayor of London have asked if they may have similar special opt-outs for their areas.

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