UK Prime Minister May introduces Brexit 'business councils'

Dr Kurt Hubner presents the report at the Europa Hotel in Belfast

Brexit talks had been deadlocked over the so-called backstop - the fallback position that would be activated if a future EU-UK trade deal does not produce a solution that would prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Tusk's comments came on the same day Austrian newspapers reported that Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier could meet over the next few days to seal an agreement.

Up against a ticking clock to get a detailed plan in place before Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019, May is battling to find a way to meet the often contradictory demands from Brussels and rival factions within her Conservative Party.

May's plan would see the whole United Kingdom effectively agree to remain in the customs union to help avoid a hard border with Ireland as a backstop if no other arrangement can be found.

In a phone call with May on Monday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he would consider a "review mechanism" for the backstop. "We're very close now", Sipila told reporters.

Asked earlier this week whether it was possible a deal could be struck soon, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that, while the clock was "ticking", he could not give a date. Britain has indicated it is seeking a deal before the end of November, although one official admitted Tuesday that "it would be a stretch".

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"Seven days is probably pushing it, but I am optimistic that there will be a Brexit deal", Hunt said, adding it is "very, very hard to resolve but I am confident that we can".

A UK-wide customs deal would maintain quota-free and tariff-free access to European markets for the British fishing industry and in return the EU wants to keep continued access to United Kingdom waters for its trawlers, the newspaper said.

Later, addressing leaders of the European People's Party group, Barnier warned of the threat that rising nationalism and populism pose to the EU ahead of European Parliament elections in May. "We will have to fight against those who want to demolish Europe - their fear, their populist deceit, their attacks against the European project".

"There is now a Farage in every country, in every country".

Brexit is expected to dominate the agenda of the British Irish Council, which also involves the first ministers of Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones.

The global trade secretary said on Thursday the government had "an instruction from our voters to leave the EU".

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