The Latest: N Ireland party leader rejects Brexit deal

The Latest on Brexit negotiations (all times local):

5 p.m.

The leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party has used her keynote speech at the annual conference to reject the British government's planned Brexit deal.

Arlene Foster said in Belfast on Saturday that the deal agreed by Prime Minister Theresa May is unacceptable and must be improved upon in the weeks ahead.

Foster's view is important because the DUP provides crucial votes that help keep May's Conservative Party in power despite its minority position in Parliament.

She said that the draft agreement raises constitutional questions that can't be ignored.

Foster said the DUP insists on "an outcome that does not leave Northern Ireland open to the perils of increased divergence away from the rest of the United Kingdom."

The DUP has said it may drop its backing of the government because of the Brexit plan.


4:20 p.m.

Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has slammed the proposed Brexit deal and urged the Democratic Unionist Party not to abandon the Conservative Party.

Johnson told the DUP conference in Belfast Saturday that the Northern Ireland party's support is crucial to the government.

He said that "I hope that you agree that it is absolutely vital that we keep this partnership going." Johnson warned of the dangers of weakening the Conservatives so much that the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn comes to power.

The DUP is threatening to break with the government over Brexit.

Johnson said that Prime Minister Theresa May's government is "making a historic mistake" if it goes forward with its Brexit plan. He said it would greatly reduce Britain's influence and ability to make independent trade deals.


3:45 p.m.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says Spain will agree to support the Brexit deal after Britain and the European Union agreed to give it a say in the future of the disputed British territory of Gibraltar.

Sanchez says Saturday that the U.K. and the EU have agreed to include language in the Brexit divorce deal that Spain could deal with London directly on the issue of Gibraltar.

Sanchez says "this is going to allow us to have direct negotiations with the U.K. regarding Gibraltar."

The issue had become a late stumbling block in the Brexit talks. Sanchez had said on Friday he wouldn't back the divorce deal U.K. and European Union leaders are supposed to vote on during Sunday's summit in Brussels, saying a draft agreement did not include clear language regarding Gibraltar.


3 p.m.

The European Union is close to reaching an agreement to ease Spanish concerns about the future of Gibraltar in Brexit talks.

EU spokesman Preben Aamann said on Twitter Saturday that after a phone conversation between Spanish Premier Pedro Sanchez and EU Council President Donald Tusk, "we are closer" to an agreement ahead of Sunday's EU summit in Brussels.

The future of tiny territory of Gibraltar — ceded to Britain in 1713 but which is still claimed by Spain — was the only dispute left hanging ahead of Sunday's summit.

On Friday, Spain pushed for a cast-iron guarantee of its say over the future of Gibraltar as a condition for backing a divorce agreement between Britain and the EU.


2:45 p.m.

The deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland has used a party conference speech to try to persuade Prime Minister Theresa May to change course on Brexit.

Nigel Dodds told the conference in Belfast Saturday that it is not too late for May to alter her Brexit plan.

He says her proposed Brexit agreement reached with the European Union would leave the U.K. in a "pitiful and pathetic place."

The small DUP has an outsize role because its support has been crucial to May's shaky government, which doesn't enjoy a majority in Parliament.

The party is threatening to end its support over the Brexit plan favored by May. That would imperil May's already difficult challenge in winning parliamentary support for her proposal.


2:20 p.m.

Portugal's foreign minister is in support of the Brexit deal including Spain's request to have its say on the future of the disputed British territory of Gibraltar.

Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva says that the original Brexit guidelines laid out last year that included assurances to Spain that it could deal with London directly on the issue of Gibraltar were "wise."

Spain said Friday it wouldn't back the divorce deal U.K. and European Union leaders are supposed to vote on during Sunday's summit in Brussels after language regarding Gibraltar didn't appear in a draft agreement.

Santos Silva says the impasse has an "easy resolution because the heads of state of the 27 had already agreed (.) that any agreement between the U.K. and the EU regarding Gibraltar would require previous agreement from Spain, and that appears to be a very wise line."


11:05 a.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is kicking off a big Brexit weekend as she travels to the European Union headquarters in Brussels for talks on Saturday with key leaders.

Spanish objections over the status of Gibraltar — the tiny territory ceded to Britain in 1713 but is still claimed by Spain — is the only dispute left hanging ahead of Sunday's summit of EU leaders.

May will meet with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk in the evening.

May hopes to leave Brussels on Sunday with a firm agreement on the withdrawal terms for Britain's departure from the EU on March 29, as well as a comprehensive negotiating text on how future relations should look like once both sides agree on a trade agreement.