Agriculture minister calls on UK to come up with 'political solution' to avoid hard border

The Government has issued a renewed warning that the UK must come up with a solution to the issue of the border between the North and the Republic if Brexit negotiations are to progress.

Agriculture minister Michael Creed said the British Government need to put forward a "political solution" to ensure there was no return to the "hard border" of the past when Britain leaves the EU single market and the customs union.

The border issue has emerged as a major sticking point in the Brexit talks in the run-up to a crunch EU summit on December 14 and 15.

Theresa May is desperately hoping EU leaders will give the green light for the second phase of the negotiations - including talks on a free trade deal - to begin.

The Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) refused to comment on a report in The UK's Times newspaper that British negotiators had put forward a proposal to devolve powers to Northern Ireland to enable "customs convergence" with the Republic of Ireland in areas such as agriculture and energy in an attempt to break the deadlock.

The paper quoted sources in Dublin as saying that there had been "movement" on the issue and confidence was growing that agreement could be reached in time for next month's summit in Brussels.

However, appearing on BBC2's Newsnight, Mr Creed said that they had yet to see a workable solution from the UK.

He said that having ruled out an Irish proposal for Northern Ireland to remain part of the single market and the customs union, it was up to the British to say how they could get round the need for border checks.

"If the UK has clearly said no to a single market and customs union, it is clearly incumbent on the British Government to articulate a way forward that enables us to have an invisible, seamless border which they have said they want," he said.

"We need political solutions now and we are not getting them from the UK Government."

Yesterday, Theresa May denied that the UK has agreed a Brexit "divorce bill" with the EU, amid reports of a deal which could see Britain pay up to £50bn.

During a visit to Iraq, the British Prime Minister insisted that the UK was "still in negotiations" with Brussels and that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

DExEU would not comment on a report by Newsnight that the two sides would put a figure on the final settlement, with the British view that it would come to between £40 to £45 billion with an "absolute cap" at £45 billion.

While Brexiteer Cabinet ministers such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove appeared to be signed up to the Prime Minister's approach, there was disquiet at the emerging scale of the settlement among some Tory MPs.

Backbencher Peter Bone told The Guardian he would be prepared to vote down a final Brexit deal that came at too high a price.

"I think people in the country will be very, very upset. I don't think paying billions to the EU is what the people voted for," he said.

"If the deal is voted down we come out on World Trade Organisation rules. I don't think that is a problem at all.

"Then all that money - £60 billion lying around - we could use that to help the NHS and other things and even do tax cuts."

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