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Tory MP Greg Hands: We've found a solution to the Brexit backstop

Greg Hands has proposed plans to negate the need for the backstop (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Greg Hands has proposed plans to negate the need for the backstop (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A Conservative MP has claimed a solution has already been found to solve the biggest stumbling block in the Brexit negotiations - the backstop.

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The backstop, which is part of former Prime Minister Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement, would see Northern Ireland remaining aligned with large parts of the EU Single Market and the UK staying in the EU Customs Union.

Greg Hands, co-chair of the think tank Prosperity UK's Alternative Arrangements Commission, said the commission has drawn up a series of "administrative and technological measures" to ensure their is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, negating the need for the backstop.

The Tory MP said the commission has drawn up a 250-page report on the issue and its proposals have been presented to politicians.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Mr Hands said the proposals include a tiered "trusted trader" scheme, similar to that used between the US and Canada, which would "cut down paperwork and avoid routine customs check" at the border.

The commission also recommended carrying out checks on food and animals away from the border and "enhanced economic zones" straddling the border between Londonderry and Donegal and Newry and Dundalk, with "tax breaks" and a "free trade zone" to avoid duties on goods.

Mr Hands admitted, however, that the arrangements could not be set up in time for the current October 31 exit date and would take up to three years to employ.

The Tory MP's claims come after a majority of Stormont MLAs signed an open letter European Council President Donald Tusk expressing their support for the backstop.

A total of 49 MLAs from Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance Party and the Green Party signed the letter calling on the "European Institutions to defend all that we have achieved".

The letter was not signed by MLAs from the DUP and UUP, TUV leader Jim Allister, independent unionist Claire Sugden or People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll.

"It is our view that a legally operable guarantee to protect the Good Friday Agreement, maintain north-south co-operation and preserve the all-island economy and to prevent a return to physical infrastructure on our border or physical checks at or near the border is necessary to preserve the progress that we have made," the letter states.

"We trust that the approach adopted by the European Institutions to defend all that we have achieved will continue in the weeks ahead."

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote a four-page letter to Donald Tusk requesting the removal of the backstop, which he described as "anti-democratic" and "inconsistent with the sovereignty of the UK as a state".

In response, Mr Tusk rejected the request, accusing the UK Government of failing to admit that its policies would lead to a return of a hard border.

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