Brexit talks stall ahead of crunch summit for May

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EU Brexit pointman Michel Barnier met his British counterpart Dominic Raab in Brussels on Sunday, but they failed to agree to a draft Brexit divorce arrangement, as EU leaders prepare to arrive on Wednesday for the summit.

The prime minister is looking to reassure her minority government partners the DUP that a proposed "backstop" keeping Northern Ireland aligned with the European Union to avoid a hard border would be time-limited.

With less than six months before Britain leaves the European Union in its biggest shift in trade and foreign policy in more than 40 years, the latest round of talks in Brussels failed to clinch a deal on Britain's divorce terms, with negotiators pausing negotiations just days before a leaders' summit.

LONDON - Theresa May dodged repeated questioning from Conservative MPs on Monday over when the United Kingdom will be taken out of "permanent limbo" with the EU.

Britain's former Brexit secretary is urging members of Prime Minister Theresa May's cabinet to rebel against her proposed deal with the European Union over the terms of Britain's departure from the bloc.

May's former foreign minister, Boris Johnson, the figurehead of Britain's Brexit campaign and one of the bookmakers' favorites to replace May, was equally critical, saying the talks were "now entering the moment of crisis". May's political allies in Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party, stand ready to scuttle a Brexit deal over the Irish border issue.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC television that any customs backstop would be "time limited", but did not say whether an expiry date would be written into the deal.

She said that there has been "a great deal of inaccurate speculation" about what has been going on within Brexit talks and said both sides have made real progress towards the withdrawal agreement and the future trade relationship.

The concept of a "backstop", to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic whatever the future trade relationship, was agreed by both sides in December past year. British Prime Minister Theresa May has played down criticisms of her Chequers plan, however, suggesting that it all amounts to negotiation tactics from Brussels.

As May prepared to update key Cabinet ministers on progress toward a deal, Ivan Rogers said that, more than two years after voting to leave the EU, Britain is "on fantasy island" about what kind of divorce agreement is possible.

Then on Wednesday, May goes to Brussels, still facing the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

With less than six months before Britain leaves the bloc, talks stalled at the weekend over how to ensure there is no return of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

But pro-Brexit ministers in May's Tory party - including Raab - are determined to make sure any such arrangement has a strict end date, to avoid Britain being trapped inside European Union rules and tariffs indefinitely. She stressed that the backstop can not be a permanent arrangement.

"I need to be able to look the British people in the eye and say this backstop is a temporary solution", May said.

Similar protocols will be included covering Northern Ireland and UK Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.

The EU's "backstop" solution - to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc - has been rejected by Britain because it would require checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mrs May's spokesperson refused to give "granular details" on the negotiations, but said the prime minister remains "confident" of getting a Brexit deal.

May will never agree to a backstop plan that means Britain could be permanently tied to the bloc's customs rules, her spokeswoman said on Friday.

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