European leaders converge on Brussels for key talks on Brexit

European leaders converge on Brussels for key talks on Brexit

Mr Coveney said he was disappointed further progress had not been made on the UK's exit from the European Union. The quiet, bucolic border separating the island of Ireland could well be both the victim and the cause of a sharp rupture between London and Brussels that would impact jobs and disrupt businesses on both sides of the English Channel.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May says that would create "a border in the Irish Sea" and she won't accept it.

Hopes of a breakthrough had been raised last week. Yet fears are that such a border could revive tensions between Northern Ireland's pro-Irish Catholic community and its pro-U.K.

In her most detailed speech yet on the Irish border issue, May said the EU had stuck to its proposal of keeping Northern Ireland in the EU customs union if a UK-wide plan is not ready to be put in place after a transitional arrangement runs out at the end of 2020.

One way to overcome most of the checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK - proposed by the UK - is to keep the entire UK in the customs union after the transition period ends in 2020.

The talks stumbled over how to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland after Britain leaves in its biggest shift in policy in more than 40 years.

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, for the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said: "The Prime Minister made a plea for unity but numerous Brexiters around the cabinet table are creating mayhem".

The most damning assessment came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who told May that Brexit was sold sold to the British people by "liars (who) left the next day so they didn't have to manage it".

FILE - Activists with the group "Borders Against Brexit" protest in the border town of Dundalk, Ireland, June 28, 2018.

"We will take this time, calmly and seriously, to find this global agreement in the next weeks", he said.

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The unexpected visit to Brussels by UK's main negotiator caused speculation of significant progress in the talks with the EU.

The British premier is under intense pressure at home not to give ground in negotiations, and on Monday addressed a restless House of Commons, insisting a deal is "achievable" without crossing her red lines. At least three members of May's Cabinet are aligned with the rebels.

All the other Europeans insist that Britain can not cherry-pick just the free trade of goods as a member of the Customs Union and forget the other EU determinants.

Other allies in the Democratic Unionist Party and opposition MPs in Labour and the Liberal Democrats also have doubts, which will make it very hard for Mrs May to get parliamentary backing for any Brexit deal.

The prime minister failed to reassure MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party that there'd be no new regulatory checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom after Brexit, and received a kicking from numerous pro-EU MPs, including up to 10 MPs who urged May to back another referendum. The party says it's all a trick to thwart Britain exiting the EU.

Johnson, the bookmakers' favourite to replace May, is the latest critic to redouble efforts to urge the prime minister to rethink her plan to leave the EU.

Britain is set to leave the European Union on March 29, and could make its exit without an agreement in place.

"I don't see how she can get the votes to get this through".

Merkel said during a conference of German exporters: "We must not allow our single market, which is really our competitive advantage, to be destroyed by such a withdrawal".

Theresa May's majority in parliament depends on the support of the DUP.

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