Dutch PM 'cautiously optimistic' about progress on Brexit talks

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The Irish border "backstop", which seeks a way to avoid customs checks on the frontier between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland if there is no overall exit deal, has become the biggest sticking point in negotiations.

Trade secretary Liam Fox told friends that her proposal "would make life very hard for me", according to a Mail report, because it would limit the UK's ability to strike new free trade deals outside the EU.

She added that the plan for checks on goods was "a one-way turnstile, which could restrict trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland" and said it was "the worst of one world".

British negotiators in Brussels are thought to be preparing to sign up to a draft of the backstop for Northern Ireland - aimed at preventing a hard border - that could see the whole of the United Kingdom effectively inside the customs union.

He told the BBC's Political Thinking podcast: "Their behaviour was pretty intolerable, but not almost as intolerable as the way the present prime minister is being treated".

Following three days of talks with key figures in Brussels, Mrs Foster, whose party's 10 MPs prop up the government at Westminster, said that the DUP could not accept the European Union proposals as they now stood.

However, she declined to say whether any end date could be included in the agreement, the final details of which are being decided in Brussels over the weekend.

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The UK is expected to come up with new proposals as an alternative to the "backstop" put forward by the European Union - which the government has rejected, saying it would threaten the integrity of the UK.

And in a vote on the Agriculture Bill, it did not back the Conservatives in what DUP sources said was a "warning shot" for the government.

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.

He hit out the "not so subliminal bullying" by Tories opposing her strategy in the middle of negotiations and also criticised International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who declined to give the PM's plan her explicit backing when asked earlier this week.

The plan would also involve keeping Northern Ireland in the single market to help maintain frictionless trade across the border with the Republic while mainland Britain would be outwith the single market.

"If people are sitting in cabinet they either support the government's policy or they don't sit in cabinet", Sir John said.

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