DUBLIN/BRUSSELS • London and Brussels have failed to get a much-hoped breakthrough on Brexit after a series of twists and turns that saw their tentative deal derailed over the issue of an Irish border.
Success hinged on a compromise on the volatile question of the UK's frontier with Ireland - one of its land borders with the European Union - as well as its financial obligation to the bloc and the rights of its citizens.
"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," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters yesterday after lunch with British Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
For her part, Mrs May said: "We've been negotiating hard and a lot of progress has been made, and on many of the issues there is a common understanding.
"On a couple of issues, some differences do remain which require further negotiation and consultation. I am also confident that we will conclude this positively."
The hope was to set the stage for a mid-December summit of EU leaders to conclude that Britain has achieved "sufficient progress" in this first phase of talks.
While money held up talks for months until Mrs May upped her offer, it was the Irish question that all sides struggled with.
While money held up talks for months until Mrs May upped her offer, it was the Irish question that all sides struggled with... Ireland insists on open access while the Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 lawmakers prop up Mrs May’s minority government, are adamant Northern Ireland will leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of Britain.
The almost-invisible 482km barrier that was part of the peace process in Ireland was only possible because Ireland and the UK were both members of the EU and its single market.
Ireland insists on open access, while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose 10 lawmakers prop up Mrs May's minority government, are adamant that Northern Ireland will leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of Britain.
Mrs May interrupted her lunch to consult with DUP leader Arlene Foster - after which all parties came out to say there was no breakthrough.
Shortly after word got around that Mrs May had agreed to keep economic rules on both sides of the new UK-EU land border across the island of Ireland similar enough to allow no frontier, Ms Foster issued a stern statement.
"There can be no arrangements agreed that compromise the integrity of the UK single market and place barriers, real or perceived, to the free movement of goods, services and capital between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom," she said.
London has broadly agreed to many of the EU's divorce terms, including paying out something like €50 billion (S$80 billion). But the issues of the rights of expatriate citizens and the UK-EU border on the island of Ireland defied a deal until the last minute.
Dublin wants London to keep business regulations in Northern Ireland the same as in the EU, but Britain had tried to keep its options open, having rejected a commitment to leave Northern Ireland in a full customs union with the EU or to keep the whole UK in one.
Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier met the European Parliament's Brexit team to brief them on progress.
The legislature, which must approve any withdrawal treaty if a disruptive Brexit is to be avoided in March 2019, has demanded that EU courts have the final say in guaranteeing rights for three million EU citizens in Britain.
Britain insists that it will no longer accept the supervision of the European Court of Justice.
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE