British reject May's Brexit plan, some turn to Boris and far right

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab

But he said Mrs May's proposal for a "facilitated customs arrangement" opened up the risk of major fraud, additional bureaucracy and damage to European Union businesses, he said.

Mr Barnier said that the Withdrawal Agreement could not be concluded without a legally binding backstop setting out the fallback arrangements if a wider solution for the Irish border could not be found.

She is vehemently opposed to an EU "backstop" proposal that would keep Northern Ireland inside a customs union with the EU while the rest of the United Kingdom leaves.

Prime Minister Theresa May, left, and Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), during a visit to Belleek pottery factory on the northern side of the Irish border, in Belleek, Northern Ireland, Thursday July 19, 2018.

He also insisted that the responsibility for resolving any outstanding issues rested with the British, since they were the ones who chose to leave - and that they would have to be resolved probably by December, as the process of ratifying any withdrawal agreement in the European Council, European Parliament, and British Parliament would not allow for negotiations to carry on to March 2019, when Brexit is supposed to happen - on paper, at least.

Speaking at Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Mrs May said the EU's so-called "backstop" plan for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was not something she could "ever accept".

"We can improve the backstop", Barnier said.

'The ball is now in the EU's court, and don't get me wrong, there will be plenty more negotiations, I've made that clear, but if they show us the same level of ambition, energy, pragmatism, this deal gets done in 12 weeks'.

In an apparent jibe at the political turmoil ripping the Conservative Party apart, Barnier said "intense" debate about the direction of Brexit is "not over".

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"She said she told Mrs May it was"'grossly irresponsible and wreckless" to row back on a commitment to the backstop agreement.

He was also critical of the UK's proposal of a Single Market for goods, questioning how it would protect consumers and businesses. He pointed out that around 13 weeks are left to talk before European Union leaders' summit in October. "We need to de-dramatise things", he added.

The intervention follows a tide of anger over May's Brexit White Paper, which led to the resignation of two of her most senior Cabinet ministers (Davis and then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson) and triggered a slump in Conservative support.

The EU gave a lukewarm welcome to the paper.

"The white paper is the result of very intense internal debate in the United Kingdom that was necessary, and as we have seen this debate is not over yet", Barnier said.

Barnier questioned some other key aspects in the white paper, as well as the Irish border.

Meanwhile divergence on services could lead to "unfair competition".

"And, on that basis, I look forward to resuming constructive discussions".

European Union officials said despite the long wait for the UK's position on the future partnership, the white paper, and the political turmoil in London, the bloc was keen to send a positive message on the white paper.

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