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Fears of no-deal Brexit rise as Downing Street admits 'significant' differences remain over Ireland

Fears of no-deal Brexit rise as Downing Street admits 'significant' differences remain over Ireland

Liz Bates

2 min read

Government plans for a no-deal Brexit are set to be ramped up as hopes of a deal between Britain and Brussels fade.

A Downing Street spokesman admitted today that "significant" differences remain over the so-called "backstop" plan for avoiding a hard border in Ireland - the one remaining roadblock to an agreement.

Neither side can agree on how to end a temporary customs arrangement between the UK and EU, which may be needed if no free trade deal is struck before the end of 2020.

Senior UK officials negotiated until 2.45 this morning in a bid to break the deadlock, but the talks again broke up without agreement.

Whitehall sources conceded that unless a deal is reached by Wednesday night, there is no chance of an emergency Brussels summit to sign off an agreement happening later this month.

That would then dramatically increase the prospects of the UK leaving without a deal next March, forcing the Government to step up its planning for such a scenario.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We want to make progress as quickly as possible in these negotiations but as we’ve also said that cannot be at any cost. That remains our position.

"There remain significant issues to resolve in relation to the backstop. That is why we are negotiating."

Number 10 had hoped to finalise a deal last week and have it signed off by a special Cabinet meeting, but those plans were scrapped as negotiations dragged on.

Meanwhile, Mrs May was hit by another blow after a senior minister warned her she would have to get Cabinet approval first before taking any deal she agrees with Brussels to Parliament.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who campaigned for Leave in the referendum, told Sky News: "There are two checks on this deal. There is Cabinet, and there is Parliament."

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