BREAKNECK negotiations for a last-minute Brexit deal began last night after Boris Johnson seemed to have talked the DUP into a major climbdown.
The Ulster unionist party whose votes prop up the PMs minority government previously refused to accept any new customs checks down the Irish Sea.
Boris Johnson may have managed to talk the DUP into a climbdown regarding the Irish border
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay with Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier before their meeting in Brussels
But in what looked like a major shift last night, its boss Arlene Foster refused to torpedo the plan that was brainstormed by Mr Johnson and Irelands Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
She only gave a stern warning to Boris that no barriers to trade are erected within the UK.
The EU has agreed to carry out intensive talks over the weekend on a new plan to end the impasse over Northern Ireland.
Under the dual customs regime, the province would remain within the EUs customs orbit, collecting Brussels tariffs.
‘DUAL CUSTOMS REGIME’
But it would formally leave the Customs Union with the rest of the UK and benefit from any new trade deals signed by an independent Britain.
Member states gave the green light to their Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to start intensive negotiations with the UK.
He was briefed on the plan by his UK counterpart Steve Barclay at a 2 hour breakfast meeting yesterday.
Mr Barnier said: Brexit is like climbing a big mountain. We need vigilance, determination and patience.
Meanwhile Mr Johnson was tight-lipped last night, refusing to say if his plan would mean Northern Ireland leaving the EU Customs Union.
DUP boss Arlene Foster warned the PM that no barriers to trade are to be erected within the UK
He did say: Under no circumstances will we see anything that damages the ability of the whole UK to take full advantage of Brexit.
And he warned there was a way to go before it was known if a deal was doable in time for Thursdays crunch EU summit.
Senior No10 officials were also sceptical, with one putting the chances of pulling off the miracle less than 50/50 but in double figures because of so many competing different interests having to be satisfied by it.
One No10 source added: Nobody is under any illusions how challenging this is going to be, and nobodys votes are being taken for granted.
‘A CRAZY SYSTEM’
EU chiefs set a new deadline of next Tuesday afternoon for a full and workable plan to be agreed, leaving just four days for British and EU negotiators to crack it.
The new plan is similar to the customs partnership that Theresa May initially proposed in July 2018 for the whole of the UK.
Then, Mr Johnson resigned from her Cabinet in protest at it, dubbing it a crazy system that was totally untried, and would make it very, very difficult to do free trade deals.
Former Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said: I fear that Northern Ireland is being offered up by Boris Johnson as the sacrificial lamb to save Brexit for the rest of the UK.
The DUP have utterly failed to defend the best interests of Unionism.
Talks on the UKs plan will continue over the weekend and EU ambassadors have been put on standby for Sunday evening in case they break down.
But one EU source said Mr Barnier and and Mr Tusk are carefully optimistic about securing a deal.
Brussels officials said there is virtually no chance of an agreement being ratified before October 31 but that only a short extension would be needed.