European Union officials warned to prepare for no-deal Brexit

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As the rhetoric from Belfast intensifies and the DUP doubles down on its opposition to any checks on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, Sabine Weyand, the deputy to the chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told a delegation of Northern Irish business leaders invited to Brussels this week that the deal on the table was "the best the European Union has ever offered any country in the world".

"I still believe it is possible that Brexit is stopped, I think there is no majority in parliament for any proposition that the prime minister brings back", Blair said, adding that he wanted a second referendum.

The Prime Minister reportedly asked senior ministers in her "Brexit war cabinet" on Thursday to agree to a proposal to keep Britain inside a customs union with the EU, if she fails to agree any alternative arrangements before the end of the two year Brexit transition period.

Brussels has proposed a backstop that would see Northern Ireland staying in the EU customs union - something the United Kingdom says would create a border down the Irish Sea.

Eurosceptics want a time limit for how long Britain will keep following the EU's customs rules before it can strike out on its own and sign independent trade agreements with new partners.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Wednesday rammed home that - while the bloc was looking at ways to carry out checks on many goods away from the actual frontier - animal and animal products would have to be screened on the border.

Red lines: DUP leader Arlene Foster in Brussels.

May has said she wants "frictionless" trade with the European Union after Brexit to help safeguard Britain's economy while regaining full sovereignty. "Indeed, Northern Ireland's access to any new United Kingdom trade deals would also be regulated by Brussels".

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Without a time limit, critics say Britain could be tied to the European Union indefinitely unable to negotiate free trade deals with other countries.

"Most of the trade between north and south is by small traders, 98% of firms in Northern Ireland employ fewer than 20 people, 95% employ fewer than 10 people". He called British Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab "able and highly intelligent".

The DUP has threatened to vote against the government's budget if it goes ahead with the plan.

While talks with Brussels have intensified since May emerged from her infighting Conservative party conference last week, there has been no breakthrough.

The parliamentary arithmetic is hard for May who commands a majority of only 13 lawmakers including the DUP.

The OBR, an independent non-departmental public body, said it was "next to impossible" to predict the consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

Labour demands that Britain retain "the exact same" perks it now has within the EU's customs union and single market - something May's so-called Chequers plan does not meet and which the EU rules out since London chose to leave both.

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