United Kingdom seeking to reassure DUP over backstop, says Hammond

She was then expected to address the House of Commons, in a statement focused on progress in European Union negotiations, at around 3:00 pm (1500 GMT), parliamentary officials said.

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the draft declaration on future ties had been agreed in principle, pending leaders' sign-off on Sunday.

The European Commission said Juncker encouraged May to talk with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, which they had done late on Wednesday, and that Gibraltar, along with some questions on fishing, were what remained unresolved.

The Prime Minister updated around 50 representatives from Northern Ireland businesses, universities and the voluntary and community sector on the draft Brexit deal at a reception, also attended by David Lidington, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and the Business Secretary Greg Clark.

British MPs of all parties criticized the divorce agreement announced last week, which includes a financial settlement and a controversial plan to avoid a hard Irish border.

The two permanent secretaries at the department, Jim Harra and Jon Thompson, were speaking to the Treasury Committee (PDF) this week, in what Thompson said was his 13th select committee appearance about Brexit.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described it as 26 pages of "waffle", although his own position on post-Brexit relations is scarcely more credible than May's.

Former Brexit minister Dominic Raab on Friday said he expected the House of Commons to vote the deal it down.

"If we had a no deal we'd find ourselves having to find a deal very quickly, so why put our countries and people through that when we have a deal on the table?" he asked.

More news: Salah scores in Liverpool win over Fulham

The EU's 27 national negotiators are due to meet again on Saturday.

Mrs Merkel told the German Parliament: "We have placed value, and I think this is right, on the fact that Britain can not decide unilaterally when it ends the state of the customs union, but that Britain must decide this together with the EU".

First, the texts must be cleared by a meeting of top European Union diplomats - the summit's so-called "sherpas" - on Friday.

European Union diplomats were meeting Friday to finalize the draft divorce agreement between Britain and the bloc, amid a warning from Spain that it will oppose the deal if it isn't guaranteed a say over the future of Gibraltar.

But spokesman Margaritis Schinas did confirm that "work is continuing" to resolve differences between London and Madrid over Gibraltar, the tiny territory at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula that was ceded to Britain in 1713 but is still claimed by Spain.

Downing Street said the prime minister was holding a teleconference with cabinet ministers about the deal.

"There are some issues now regarding Gibraltar with Spain, but I hope that we can keep the unity among the 27", he said.

He described the DUP, which is staunchly opposed to any Brexit deal that could see Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the United Kingdom, as a hardline unionist party that was not willing to take advice from parties in Ireland.

"In broad terms, if we were to make a number of assumptions, we think it could be up to 30 months to do that work", he said - but the clock won't start ticking until the governments reach an agreement.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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