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May's EU negotiator pictured with papers hinting at new NI border plan

Olly Robbins was photographed outside the Cabinet Office holding a file with papers exposed revealing a "separate agreement" on the backstop

By Andrew Madden

Theresa May's chief Brexit negotiator has been pictured with documents hinting at a new plan to solve the Irish border backstop issue.

Olly Robbins was photographed outside the Cabinet Office holding a file with papers exposed revealing a "separate agreement" on the backstop - a major bone of contention in the Brexit negotiations.

The backstop would keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU after Brexit, in the event no solution is found to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Mr Robbins' papers were blowing in the wind when the picture was snapped, revealing the bottom right-hand corner of a page on the backstop.

The page references the "separate agreement" on the backstop, which the UK wants to implemented "for the shortest possible period".

Last week, the issue resulted in Theresa May calling off a Commons vote on her Brexit deal as it was facing being rejected by the majority of MPs.

Since calling off the vote, Mrs May has faced a no confidence vote in her leadership by members of her own party - which she won - and met with EU officials in an attempt to find a solution to backstop issue.

The president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Jucker, however, said the Brexit deal is "not open for renegotiation", but that "clarifications" could be offered.

He said: “There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation but of course there is room, if used intelligently, to give further clarifications and interpretations without opening the withdrawal agreement. Everybody has to know the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened.”

In a commons statement on Monday, Mrs May said the EU had assured her the backstop was "not a plot to trap" the UK.

"EU leaders could not have been clearer: They do not want to use this backstop, they want to agree the best possible future relationship with us, there is no plot to keep us in the backstop," she said.

"These commitments have legal status and should be welcomed as they go further than the EU ever previously has in trying to address the concerns of this house."

She added that and MPs would resume the debate on her Brexit deal on January 7 and a new vote on the deal will be held the following week, beginning January 14.

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