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Tusk, May speak on Brexit amid hopes of elusive breakthrough

Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipila, left, welcomes European Council President Donald Tusk at the Prime Minister's official residence Kesaranta in Helsinki, Finland, Wednesday Nov. 7, 2018. Conservative leaders from across Europe are gathering to plot their strategy to win the next EU elections, and must decide whether Hungary’s stridently nationalist ruling party should remain in their political family. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva via AP)

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Council President Donald Tusk spoke by phone Wednesday amid signs of movement in deadlocked Brexit talks.

Tusk tweeted that the pair spoke “to take stock of progress in #brexit talks and discuss way ahead.” Tusk has said he is willing to call a special EU summit if there are new proposals from Britain to unblock talks.

May’s Cabinet has been inching closer to agreeing a common stance on the key issue — maintaining an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the EU. The emerging plan involves keeping the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent trade treaty is worked out, to remove the need for border checks.

But some pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers want to see legal advice drawn up by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox before they agree to anything. They fear Britain being locked permanently into a customs union with the EU, which would limit the U.K.’s ability to strike new trade deals around the world.

Opposition Labour Party spokesman Keir Starmer also said the legal advice should be published, because “the public have the right to know precisely what the Cabinet has signed up to and what the implications are for the future.”

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but divorce negotiations have been hamstrung by divisions within May’s Conservative government over how close an economic relationship to seek with the bloc.

Some ministers, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, want to keep closely aligned with EU rules to avoid barriers to business with Britain’s biggest trading partner. Pro-Brexit Cabinet members want a cleaner break so that the U.K. can set its own trade policies and sign new deals around the world.

A document leaked to the BBC suggests the government hopes to bridge the Cabinet divide and strike a deal this month, which would then be put to lawmakers for approval.

The memo describes how May would try to win parliamentary and public support for an agreement before urging lawmakers to “put the country’s interests first” and back the deal in Parliament.

The document appears to consist of notes rather than a finished proposal. May’s office did not deny it was genuine but said the document’s “childish language” and misspellings made clear it “doesn’t represent the government’s thinking.”

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