What on earth is happening with Brexit and Northern Ireland? Everything you need to know
Theresa May's latest bid to solve the Brexit deadlock has collapsed - and she has just days to bring it round.
The Prime Minister is racing against the clock to square every circle before a crunch EU summit next week.
It's all about a political row over Northern Ireland.
The humiliated Prime Minister called off a possible deal last night when DUP leader Arlene Foster - who she handed Â£1bn to prop up her government - told her 'no' in a last-minute phone call.
So what's the row all about, where are we with Brexit talks and why's this all flaring up now?
Here's everything you need to know.
Where are we with Brexit talks?
Theresa May triggered Article 50 on 29 March 2017, starting a two-year countdown to Brexit.
Since then she's been negotiating with the EU, but talks have gone very slowly.
EU chiefs refuse to start talks on Britain's future trade with Europe until they've reached "sufficient progress" on three issues (below).
The next crucial deadline is December 14-15, when all 27 other EU leaders will meet at the European Council in Brussels to decide if there's been sufficient progress.
That's why Theresa May tried to charm European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker over a three-and-a-half-hour lunch this week.
What three issues need sorting out?
- Northern Ireland: Britain needs a way to avoid a 'hard border' between Northern Ireland and the Republic - but at the same time have a hard border between the UK and the EU.
- Citizens' rights: Theresa May's offer ed to let 3.2million EU citizens who already live in Britain apply for "settled status" after five years. But some EU leaders say that's not good enough.
- Divorce bill: Britain has reportedly upped its offer to around 40billion Euros, but officials are still wrangling over how much we should pay in to the Brussels Budget as we leave.
Why is Northern Ireland the biggest issue?
Because the other two issues, citizens' rights and the divorce bill, appear to be almost sorted.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland has blown into a full-scale political fight just days before the European Council summit.
What's the problem in a nutshell?
Theresa May is despe rate to avoid a 'hard' border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.
That means customs checks (maybe electronic ones) and border posts. It would add loads of red tape and cost some businesses millions of pounds.
Some fear it would also be the first step to a united Ireland, and hurl us back into the violence of the Troubles.
They want a border people can continue to drive through freely.
To make things more complicated, there are also currently all-Ireland agreements on issues like prescriptions and the energy market which ignore the border.
On the other hand, Theresa May needs a 'hard' border between the UK and EU - to stop illegal immigrants and imports getting through.
Obviously, the Republic of Ireland is part of the EU.
So she needs to put a border somewhere.
And her DUP allies say putting that border in the Irish Sea will
What does everyone want?
- The Irish government wants Northern Ireland to stay as close to the EU as possible, which could mean staying in the single market in all but name.
- The EU have given Ireland a prominent voice in the negotiations because it will carry on being an EU member.
- The SNP in Scotland want to stay bound to the single market anyway, so they say if Northern Ireland gets a special deal, Scotland should get one too.
- Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, agrees with the SNP on this one.
- Many Remainers say this argument is the reason the whole of the UK needs to be bound tightly to the single market
- But the DUP want to stop anything that would put a border in the Irish Sea or set up any difference between Northern Ireland and the UK.
- And Tory Brexiteers want to both protect the Union (by stopping an Irish Sea border) and stop anyone pushing towards a soft Brexit.
- Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, and other key Remainers, also said there must be nothing to break up the Union.
- Theresa May wants a solution that'll keep everyone happy. Good luck...
What deal was put on the table?
Just before Theresa May had lunch in Brussels, a draft plan was leaked to the Irish media.
It proposed Northern Ireland could have "regulatory alignment" with the EU after Brexit.
Some thought this meant staying in the single market, which David Davis insists wasn't the case.
Mr Davis also insists there won 9;t be "harmonisation" of all EU rules for Northern Ireland. And he said: "The suggestion we might depart the EU but leave one part of the UK behind... That is emphatically not something that the UK Government is considering."
But in any case, lots of people took it to mean a special deal for Northern Ireland.
Why did it collapse?
Theresa May's deal was sunk after Mrs May spoke on the phone to DUP chief Arlene Foster.
Ms Foster said her party would not accept any deal that separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the UK.
It forced Mrs May to withdraw her offer pending further negotiations.
What's the fallout?
Irelandâs Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was âsurprised and disappointedâ and it hadn't been his job to get DUP support.
A former top ambassador, Lord Ricketts, said it was "pretty extraordinary" Mrs May hadn't cleared the deal with the DUP beforehand.
It gives the impression Arlene Foster is the most powerful woman in Westminster, despite the fact her party only has 10 MPs and she's not an MP herself.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "The last 24 hours have given new meaning to the phrase Coalition of Chaos .
"Itâs one thing to go to Brussels and fall out with those on the other side of the negotiating table.
"Itâs quite another to go to Brussels and fall out with those supposedly on your own side of the negotiating table.
"Yesterday the rubber hit the road - fantasy hit brutal reality."
Ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband branded the Tories a "ludicrous, incompetent, absurd, make it up as you go along, couldnât run a p*** up in a brewery bunch of jokers".
W hat is Theresa May doing now?
Theresa May is holding emergency talks to try and resolve the Brexit deadlock before the end of this week.
She is due to speak to both Ms Foster and Michelle O'Neill, the leader of Irish Republicans Sinn Fein, on Tuesday night.
Until those phone calls she had not pencilled in a return to Brussels, but it's expected this week, even as soon as Wednesday.
She and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker both said they were hopeful of a deal before the summit.
It will most likely involve a very, very, very careful form of words that might not look like much but will mean a lot in diplomacy speak.
How could it end for Theresa May?
Without DUP support Mrs May could strugg le to get any legislation through the Commons, increasing the likelihood of an early general election.
Speaking to the Times, one senior Tory claimed the crisis could cost Mrs May her job within weeks.
The unidentified politician said: "If, to save their blushes, the Irish agree to a meaningless and frankly unenforceable set of words then great.
"If they donât, or Theresa May goes too far, then we and the DUP will withdraw support and there could be a leadership change this side of Christmas.â
Where's Labour in all this?Video Loading Click to play Tap to play The video will start in 8Cancel Play now
Labour has demanded the EU single market is put "back on the table" in Brexit talks - appearing to echo Remainers.
Bre xit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer also said the government should drop the "absurd" decision to fix Brexit Day, 29 March 2019, in law.
Sir Keir's comments may signal a softening of Labour's Brexit stance.
Jeremy Corbyn has said keeping Britain in the EU single market completely - which would mean keeping free movement of people - is not possible and sacked three frontbenchers who voted to do so.
But after pressure from some of his own MPs, Mr Corbyn then said he would "guarantee unimpeded access" to the single market after Brexit. To some this meant membership in all but name.
Today Sir Keir told MPs: "Will the Prime Minister now rethink her reckless red lines and put options such as a customs union and the single market back on the table for negotiation?
"Because if the price of the Prime Minister's approach is the break-up of the Union and reopening a bitter divide in Northern Ireland, then the price is too high."
Asked what Labour's policy was after Sir Keir's comments, a spokesman said: "We want a final deal that retains the benefits of the Customs Union and the Single Market.
"Options for achieving the benefits of the Customs Union should not be swept off the table. Labour is flexible as to whether the benefits of the Single Market are best retained by negotiating a new relationship with the Single Market or by a bespoke trade deal."Source: Google News