Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker were forced to admit it was not possible to strike a Brexit deal on Monday after a frantic day of negotiations came to a halt because Northern Ireland’s DUP had not yet been signed up.
All parties initially appeared to be confident that there was an agreement to be had on citizens rights, the financial settlement and the increasingly thorny issue of the Irish border, but the bullish talk came to nothing.
The UK prime minister told reporters in a statement that there remained outstanding issues on which work needed to be done. She said negotiators from both sides would re-enage by the end of the week.
She said: “There are a couple of issues, some differences do remain which require further negotiation and consultation.”
Juncker described May as a “tough negotiator”, and insisted that talks had not failed. But he had to concede that a deadline set by Brussels, of clear and acceptable solutions from the UK on the three opening withdrawal issues had not materialised.
“It was not possible to reach complete agreement today,” he said. “We have common understanding on most issues. Just two or three are open for discussion.”
It appeared that the DUP’s refusal to accept compromise language on the future of Irish border, under which the UK would commit to “continued regulatory alignment” to ensure a hard border would not return, was a hurdle too far.
The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, had made public her anger at the suggestion, and it is understood that that message was repeated in a call with the prime minister on Monday afternoon.
The UK wants Brussels to rule that sufficient progress has been made on the opening issues in order for talks on trade and a transition period to open in December, after a summit of leaders next week.
This article was written by Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Lisa O'Carroll in Dublin, for theguardian.com on Monday 4th December 2017 16.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010