Dutch PM 'cautiously optimistic' about progress on Brexit talks

Theresa May

Theresa May

The British government brushed off a threat Thursday by its Northern Irish allies to withdraw their support if it compromises too much on Brexit, amid reports of progress in negotiations with the European Union.

Scottish Minister David Mundell suggested the DUP would come around, saying the alternative was either a government led by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn or a Brexit next March without any deal at all.

A day earlier, the DUP had said it was prepared to vote down the budget if the prime minister in their eyes conceded too much ground to Brussels in the European Union talks, risking an abrupt end to the confidence and supply agreement that has kept May in Downing Street since the 2017 election in which the Tories lost their overall majority.

Following three days of talks with key figures in Brussels, DUP leader Arlene Foster said Mrs May could not in "good conscience" accept the proposals now on the table from the European Union. She added: "The Prime Minister is a Unionist". Many of her cabinet colleagues have assured me of their Unionism.

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told the European commission president and other commissioners in a private meeting on Wednesday that the principles of an agreement on the Irish border are largely accepted by both sides.

In addition, Northern Ireland would remain under large parts of single market regulations, requiring enhanced checks on products arriving from Britain, particularly agricultural goods.

"Indeed, Northern Ireland's access to any new United Kingdom trade deals would also be regulated by Brussels", she said.

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May's Conservative party has relied on the DUP's 10 MPs to pass legislation since losing its majority in the House of Commons in the June 2017 election.

Prized post-Brexit trade agreements with the United States, China and India would have only a "relatively modest" impact on Britain's economy, according to the government's official forecaster.

The DUP has threatened to vote against the government's budget if it goes ahead with the plan.

The DUP has stepped up warnings to British Prime Minister Theresa May not to compromise over the border on the island of Ireland in her efforts to secure a Brexit deal.

For customs and VAT, Barnier said, "we propose using the existing customs procedures to avoid doing checks at the transit points".

He reiterated the EU's line welcoming May's proposals for a bold free-trade deal "without tariffs or quotas" and close security ties after Brexit.

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