- Theresa May has delivered speech on Brexit during her visit to Northern Ireland
- The Prime Minister condemned the EU's plan for Irish border as 'unworkable'
- Mrs May insisted that the UK must be 'free' to leave the bloc as a 'nation state'
- EU negotiator Michel Barnier has dismissed May's blueprint at press conference
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier effectively took an axe to Theresa May's plans today as the Brexit crisis deepened.
Just hours after the PM pleaded for the EU to drop its 'unworkable' Irish border demands, Mr Barnier complained that her Chequers blueprint - which would see the UK collect some tariffs for Brussels and follow a 'common rule book' on goods - undermined the single market and would cause 'unjustifiable' bureaucracy.
In a withering assessment that will ramp up fears of 'no deal' Brexit, Mr Barnier questioned whether the UK could be trusted to rake in taxes on behalf of the EU.
He also hinted that Mrs May might be forced into even more concessions by domestic political pressures, jibing that the 'intense' debate in the UK was 'not over'.
The brutal intervention will dash the premier's hopes that she could make a breakthrough after forcing the compromise plan through Cabinet.
Delivering a speech in Belfast this morning, Mrs May again appealed for the EU to take a 'pragmatic' approach.
The bitter spat over how to avoid a hard Irish border issue has been threatening to torpedo the talks altogether as both sides adopt increasingly entrenched positions.
Mrs May warned that Northern Ireland cannot stay within Brussels' jurisdiction for customs and regulations, saying she could 'never accept' terms that would tear the UK apart.
The UK had joined the EU as one nation and 'must be free as a nation state to make the choice to leave, she said.
She insisted her Chequers plan was a 'comprehensive' solution to the thorny Irish border issue.
He said checks on goods would be needed because the UK wanted to leave the single market and customs union.
Mr Barnier raised doubts about whether the EU could delegate collection of tariffs to a 'third country', warning of a 'major risk of fraud'.
'There's not an awful lot of justification for the EU running the risk of weakening the single market,' he said.
'That is our main asset. There's no justification for us to create additional burdens on business just because the UK wants to leave.'
While paying lip service to his desire for 'constructive' talks with Britain, Mr Barnier ruled out substantive progress on any other issues until the Irish border concerns were satisfied.
'We can improve the backstop,' says Barnier. 'But we need an operational backstop now in the Withdrawal Agreement, not later.'
He suggested the complexity of Mrs May's compromise plans also made it a non-starter, adding that they were 'not going to negotiate on the basis of the white paper'.
'Brexit cannot and will not justify additional bureaucracy,' he said.
Mr Barnier said because the plan only included alignment for goods checked at the border it would mean rules on areas like pesticide use in the agro-food sector were not included.
'So, how can we protect consumers in Europe?' he added.
Mr Barnier questioned whether the white paper was workable without additional bureaucracy and also raised concerns about the collection of tariffs.
He said: 'Are the British proposals in the interests of the EU?
'How could the EU delegate the application of EU tariffs to a country that is no longer a member state, that is no longer subject to our rules of governance? Is it legally feasible?'
The negotiating chief raised concerns about how the EU would avoid 'unfair competition' from Britain if it agrees to the plan for divergence on services.
'Our main aim is to protect the EU's single market, to protect what we are,' he said.
In a pointed aside at the turmoil threatening to engulf Mrs May's government, he added: 'The White Paper is the result of very intense internal debate in the UK that was necessary, and as we have seen this debate is not over yet.'
The clashes come as fears surge that Britain is headed for a 'no deal' Brexit - which would be deeply damaging for everyone.
Irish PM Leo Varadkar was branded an 'airhead' and accused of failing to understand international law today after he stoked the row by threatening to block planes from going through his country's airspace if the UK crashes out.
The IMF has also released estimates suggesting Ireland would bear the brunt of a £200billion hit to the EU economy from a no deal outcome.
Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said the comments by Mr Barnier and Mr Varadkar were 'mafia like'.
'Today's aggressive comments by Messrs Varadkar and Barnier show why we are right to be leaving the mafia-like European Union,' he said.
The EU has give Britain two choices for future trade that it says would get rid of the need for a hard Irish border.
The first option would see a 'Norway plus' arrangement with the UK remaining in the single market and customs union - accepting free movement and obeying Brussels rules without having any say in setting them.
The other option is a limited Canada-style free trade agreement for the British mainland - but Northern Ireland would effectively remain a part of the EU.
Mrs May has said both blueprints are totally unacceptable, and put forward a compromise plan that would see the UK follow rules on goods and collect some tariffs on behalf of Brussels to avoid border friction.
Speaking at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Mrs May reiterated her refusal to contemplate any 'backstop' deal that treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.
She said any such deal would go against the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland 20 years ago after decades of conflict.
'A government that I lead can never be neutral in our support for the Union,' Mrs May said.
'The economic and constitutional dislocation of a formal 'third country' customs border within our own country is something I will never accept and I believe no British prime minister could ever accept.
'And as they made clear this week, it is not something the House of Commons will accept either.'
Mrs May said that she was determined the UK should continue to be a union of four nations for 'generations to come', and vowed to seek a deal with the EU that satisfied every part of the country.
She said the UK 'joined as a nation' and 'must be free as a state to make the choice to leave'.
She admitted that 'no technological solution' has been put in place anywhere around the world that would keep the border fluid without some form of alignment.
'In the Northern Ireland of today, where a seamless border enables unprecedented levels of trade and co-operation North and South, any form of infrastructure at the border is an alien concept,' she said.
'The seamless border is a foundation stone on which the Belfast Agreement rests, allowing for the just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.
She insisted that following the publication of the Government's white paper agreed at Chequers, it is 'now for the EU to respond'.
'Not simply to fall back on to previous positions which have already been proven unworkable. But to evolve their position in kind,' she said.
'And, on that basis, I look forward to resuming constructive discussions.'
Mrs May said the white paper set out a 'principled and practical' Brexit.
The PM said she understood the concerns about the proposal to maintain common standards with the EU.
'I understand that concern but I think it's in the national interest in a way it wouldn't be for financial services,' she said.
Mrs May said the rules that cover goods had been relatively stable over the last 30 years and many were set by international bodies that the UK will remain a member of after Brexit.
Many businesses would continue to meet the rules anyway, she added.
The EU has demanded Britain chooses between two options for avoiding a hard Irish border, a situation which the UK is also determined to prevent.
Eurocrats regard the proposals pushed through Cabinet at Chequers as 'cherry picking' and have already dismissed them.
The EU's other 27 states are preparing their response to the White Paper at a General Council meeting of ministers in Brussels this morning.
They will receive an update on negotiations from Mr Barnier - who is then due to hold a press conference.
Amid growing concern at the impasse, Mrs May is said to be preparing a series of public warnings about the impact of no deal.
Consumers and companies will be given detailed advice in weekly 'bundles' from the start of next week on how to prepare for 'a disorderly Brexit', under government plans, the Times reported.
Theresa May arrived at the venue in Belfast this morning for her keynote speech on BrexitMinisters have so far refused to expand on a commitment to release 70 technical notices on 'no-deal' contingencies after the Chequers agreement on the next stage in negotiations with Brussels.
Mrs May's speech comes the day after new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab headed to Brussels for the first time to take part in talks with Mr Barnier.
Mr Barnier told reporters it was 'a matter of urgency to agree a legally operative backstop', saying: 'We need an all-weather insurance policy.'
Mr Raab said that he was looking forward 'with renewed energy, vigour and vim' to seeing the detail of the White Paper hammered out after a gruelling Cabinet conclave at Chequers.
Brexiteer Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom upped pressure on Mrs May last night, saying the EU must be told the Chequers blueprint, which has divided the Conservative party, is the 'final offer' rather than an opening gambit.
However she also admitted quitting without an agreement would not be an 'optimal solution'.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, insisted the deal is 'absolutely alive' despite the Government being forced to make concessions to Brexiteers in parliament.
Amid the ongoing power-sharing impasse at Stormont, Mrs May has been meeting the five main political parties on her two day visit to Northern Ireland, which included her first visit to the Irish border since the Brexit referendum.
She held talks with her Westminster confidence and supply partners, the DUP, last night, an engagement that included a private dinner with leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds in Co Fermanagh.
Mrs May also held talks with an SDLP delegation. She met Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance Party this morning.
Ahead of the meeting on the outskirts of Belfast, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald heavily criticised Mrs May's handling of the Brexit process.
'The British government's Brexit chaos has been marked by prevarication and stalling, ever changing positions and broken agreements,' she said.
'This situation is intolerable and unacceptable.'
Victims of the Northern Ireland Troubles angered at a lack of progress in implementing new mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the conflict are due to protest against Mrs May's visit to Belfast.
During her speech, Mrs May said the people of Northern Ireland deserve the restoration of devolved government as she expressed frustration about the lack of progress.
She insisted the Government was doing all it could to restore a power-sharing administration at Stormont.
She said the 'resumption of political dialogue' should happen as soon as possible. The Prime Minister said: 'It is a matter of frustration and regret that, after enjoying the longest period of unbroken devolved government since the 1960s, Northern Ireland has now been without a fully functioning Executive for over 18 months.'
She added: 'I want to see the Assembly and the Executive back, taking decisions on behalf of all of the people of Northern Ireland.
'They deserve no less.'
Mrs May said: 'We continue to do all we can to see the re-establishment of devolution and all of the institutions of the Belfast Agreement. 'But an agreement cannot be imposed. That needs to come from within Northern Ireland.
So what would happen if we just walked away?
Leaving without a deal would mean an immediate Brexit on March 29 after tearing up a 21-month transition agreement. This included giving £39billion to the EU, which ministers would no longer have to pay, a House of Lords report claims.
The Chequers agreement effectively proposed keeping Britain in the single market for goods and agriculture to preserve 'frictionless' trade and protect the economy.
Customs checks on cross-Channel freight would cause havoc at ports, hitting food supplies and other goods.
Even Brexiteers admit to a big economic impact in the short term. Britain could waive customs checks on EU produce to free up backlogs, but would Brussels do the same?
All EU-UK trade in goods is free of tariffs in the single market.
Trade would revert to World Trade Organisation rules. The EU would charge import tariffs averaging 2-3 per cent on goods, but up to 60 per cent for some agricultural produce, damaging UK exporters.
We have a trade deficit with the EU of £71billion – they sell us more than we sell them – so the EU overall would lose out.
German cars and French agriculture would be worst hit, as would UK regions with large export industries. Tariffs could also mean price inflation. But UK trade with the EU is 13 per cent of GDP and falling compared to non-EU trade, which generates a surplus and is likely to grow. The outlook would be boosted by Britain's ability to strike trade deals.
The UK would immediately have control over its borders and freedom to set migration policy on all EU migrants.
UK nationals would likely lose their right to live and work in the EU. There would be legal uncertainty for the 1.3million Britons living in the EU and the 3.7million EU nationals here.
CITY OF LONDON
Many firms have already made contingency plans for no deal, but there would probably be a significant degree of disruption and an economic hit.
Ministers would be likely to take an axe to tax and regulations to preserve the UK's economic advantage.
Fears of planes not being able to fly appear far-fetched – unless the EU is determined to destroy both business and tourism. Rules to keep planes in the air are likely to be agreed. The EU has many deals with non-EU countries as part of its Open Skies regime.
Britain would be free from the edicts of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and all EU laws. Parliament would be sovereign.
FARMING & FISHING
THE UK would quit the Common Agricultural Policy, which gives farmers and landowners £3billion in subsidies. Ministers would come under pressure to continue a form of subsidy.
Northern Ireland would be outside the EU, with no arrangements on how to manage 300 crossing points on the 310-mile border.
The EU would want Ireland to impose customs and other checks to protect the bloc's border – something it has said it will not do. No deal could blow a hole in the Good Friday Agreement, with pressure on all sides to find a compromise.