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Jonathan Powell: 'We're still a long way from a Brexit deal'

Jonathan Powell was chief British negotiator in the Belfast Agreement talks
Jonathan Powell was chief British negotiator in the Belfast Agreement talks

Former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell has said the UK is "still a long way" from a Brexit deal with the EU, with just 47 days to go before the scheduled exit date.

In a letter to the Times, Mr Powell, who served under former PM Tony Blair for a decade, also rubbished potential solutions to the Irish border issue put forward by some Brexiteers so far as "nonsense".

The problem of the border post-Brexit has long been a major hurdle in the negotiations, with the controversial backstop being firmly opposed by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the DUP.

Arlene Foster's party is also against the idea of a "Northern Ireland-only backstop", or regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, as they would separate the province politically and economically from the mainland - strongly rebuffing press reports to the contrary earlier this week.

Mr Powell said the DUP has a "perfectly legitimate" complaint against erecting a border between Northern Ireland and Britain, however if the UK leaves with a Canada-style free trade agreement, as favoured by the PM, "there will have to be a border somewhere".

"The Irish are rightly never going to agree to border with the EU. And a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would reopen the issue of identity underpinning the Good Friday Agreement," he added.

"This has been the problem bedevilling the Brexit talks since the start and to suggest that a common agricultural area for the whole of Ireland and some cobbled-together ideas about trusted trader schemes solves it, is nonsense."

Earlier this month, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said his party is open to discussions with Boris Johnson on a possible all-Ireland food standards zone as part of a solution to the backstop.

Trusted trader schemes have also been mooted as possible alternatives, by both the Prime Minister and DUP figures such as MEP Diane Dodds.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, however, stated on Thursday that alternative solutions to the border that have been put forward so far "fall very far short" of what is needed and border checks may be required in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Similarly, Jonathan Powell, who was the chief British negotiator during the Belfast Agreement talks, said a workable plan to break the negotiation deadlock is far from being realised.

"In truth we are still a long way from a negotiated deal and no one has yet found the magic key to unlock it," he said.

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