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Ireland disappointed by Brexit gridlock as hopes for breakthrough dashed

British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar were all smiles last month, though Brexiteers accuse Dublin of wanting to stall Brexit talks due to its demand that there can be no return to a hard border on the island
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (AFP/File)
Dublin's demands on status of the border with British-ruled Northern Ireland have been the key stumbling block

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he was "surprised and disappointed" on Monday after Britain appeared to change its mind about an agreement on the status of the Irish border, following a predicted deal failed to materialise.

"I am surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today," Varadkar said at a press conference in Dublin.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker fell short of a breakthrough, despite encouraging progress on the thorny Irish issue. Dublin's demands on the status of the border with British-ruled Northern Ireland have been the key stumbling block recently, with fears that the talks could even collapse amid tensions between the two neighbors.

Paul FAITH (AFP/File)

But an angry reaction from the Northern Irish unionists who prop up May's minority Conservative government meant there was still no deal three hours later, and the meeting was put on hold while May made calls to try to win them over.

Northern Irish First Minister and lead of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster declared that, "Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom,"

"We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom," Foster, whose party is staunchly pro-British, told reporters in in Belfast.

Charles MCQUILLAN (POOL/AFP/File)

- Hopes dashed - 

Despite EU president Donald Tusk saying just hours earlier that negotiators were "getting closer to sufficient progress" at the December summit, and that he was "encouraged" by a phone call with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, the talks appeared to stall.

"Despite our best efforts and the significant progress we and our teams have made in the past days on the remaining withdrawal issues, it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today," Juncker said at a joint news conference with May.

"This is not a failure... I am very confident that we will reach an agreement in the course of this week."

Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister, said May was a "tough negotiator and not an easy one."

May said differences remained on a "couple of issues".

"But we will reconvene before the end of the week, and I am also confident we will conclude this positively," May said.

CHRISTIAN HARTMANN (POOL/AFP)

- Irish Sea divides -

Ireland's RTE News had reported earlier that text had been agreed in recent days saying Britain would allow the maintenance of EU single market and customs union rules in UK-controlled Northern Ireland.

This would have been a major concession to demands for guarantees from Dublin that the border will remain free-flowing after Brexit.

Local residents and businesses straddling the frontier, as well as various British and Irish politicians, have raised concerns about the implications of returning to any kind of "hard border" on the island.

The report of a deal also riled parts of Britain that favor retaining close economic ties to the EU.

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