'Intense efforts' fail to seal Brexit deal in Brussels

The European Union's top Brexit negotiator says urgent talks with Britain's point person did not result in their reaching agreement on outstanding issues. Michel Barnier said: "Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open" in the divorce talks between the EU and Britain.

Hastily arranged meeting in Brussels thought to signal some progress has been made

EU flags are seen outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, prior to a meeting between Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab and EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Sunday. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

The European Union's top Brexit negotiator says urgent talks with Britain's point person did not result in their reaching agreement on outstanding issues.

Michel Barnier said: "Despite intense efforts, some key issues are still open" in the divorce talks between the EU and Britain.

​Britain's Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, made a rush visit to Brussels on Sunday for talks with Barnier as Brexit talks accelerated ahead of a summit later this week.​

Some EU diplomats following the talks closely were optimistic that EU negotiators would tell a meeting of national envoys on Sunday afternoon that a deal had been achieved.

Barnier says the need "to avoid a hard border" between Ireland and the U.K's Northern Ireland is among the unsettled issues.

A spokesperson for Raab said the meeting led to progress "in a number of key areas" but that "unresolved issues relating to the backstop" remain.

"The U.K. is still committed to making progress at the October European Council," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Raab held surprise talks Sunday with the top EU negotiator as Brexit talks accelerated ahead of a summit later this week. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Prime Minister Theresa May is to travel to Brussels for the start of the summit, when both sides want to sign off on a draft withdrawal agreement to set out the terms for Britain's divorce from the EU.

Rabb's surprise trip to Brussels spurred speculation of a breakthrough in the negotiations, a possibility reinforced by the call for the ambassadors from the bloc's 27 nations to meet at EU headquarters, starting at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

An EU official says no further negotiations are planned before an EU leaders summit on Wednesday.

Three diplomats from different EU nations confirmed the ambassadors' meeting is on, underscoring enough progress had been made to assess the situation.

Irish border question

Even if a deal is reached on Britain's divorce from the bloc, it's clear that May will find it challenged at home.

Raab's predecessor, David Davis, wrote in the Sunday Times that May's plans for some continued ties with the EU even after Britain leaves the bloc is "completely unacceptable" and must be stopped by her ministers.

The prime minister's fellow Conservative party member urged members of May's cabinet to rebel against her proposed deal with the EU over the terms of Britain's departure.

May also faces obstacles from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland, which has played a crucial role in propping up her minority government in the U.K. parliament.

DUP leader Arlene Foster remains opposed to any Brexit plan that would require any checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and Britain.

With files from The Associated Press