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Ireland border still Brexit sticking point, but we're 90% there ondeal and omens good: Coveney

By Staff Reporter

Hopes of a breakthrough in Brexit talks continued to rise as the Republic said the chances of a deal were "good".

Following on from positive remarks from European Council president Donald Tusk that an agreement could be reached within weeks, Ireland's Tanaiste Simon Coveney talked up the chances of an accord.

Mr Coveney told Sky News: "The withdrawal treaty is already about 90% agreed in terms of text.

"The issues that have not been signed off yet relate predominantly to Ireland, and what is needed now is the two negotiating teams need to lock themselves in a room for the next 10 days or so."

Mr Coveney said the chances of a deal being cut were "good" ahead of a crunch EU summit on October 17.

As the upbeat mood in the EU increased, hardline Tory Brexiteers had also begun to soften their stance in order to try to get Prime Minister Theresa May to abandon her Chequers proposals in favour of a Canada-style free trade deal.

Senior members of the Conservatives' 60-strong European Research Group said they would support EU officials being stationed at UK ports after Brexit to break the impasse with Brussels.

Prominent Brexiteers including former leader Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper they are ready to compromise in order to achieve a free trade deal with Brussels, rather than accept the closer relationship set out by Mrs May.

Such a move would see them back proposals allowing EU officials to be stationed at UK ports after Brexit, and support the Government enforcing EU rules on goods exported to the bloc from UK firms, the newspaper said.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Duncan Smith said allowing EU officials at UK ports, as happens now with Eurotunnel, would answer concerns about the Irish border.

He wrote: "We can… (conduct) regulatory and customs checks together in a way that respects the EU's single market, by building on systems already in place at the channel ports.

"The UK has long had arrangements with France under the Le Touquet Treaty where passports are checked by French officers at Dover and UK officers in Calais.

"The UK should seek to build on this by agreeing a Le Touquet-plus system with the EU.

"Any customs or regulatory checks could be made at juxtaposed controls with information-sharing and co-operation between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

"This would not simply answer concerns about keeping the Northern Ireland border open, it would also ensure the channel ports continue to provide as frictionless trade as possible."

It was unclear last night how this Brexiteer move would play with the DUP, whose 10 MPs are vital in enabling Mrs May's Government to survive.

Last night the DUP was staying tight-lipped ahead of its high-level crunch meeting in Brussels with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier later this week.

The DUP red line on the Brexit negotiation is to block any proposal which would create a border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Any EU checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain or vice versa would be a clear breach, but it could not be confirmed last night whether the party would regard EU officials in NI checking goods destined for export or transit to other EU countries as crossing its "blood-red" negotiating lines.

Belfast Telegraph

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