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Britain 'very close' to sealing a Brexit deal, says Phil Hogan

The Guardian is reporting tonight that a solution to the Irish border is close, though the final wording has yet to be thrashed out.

Image: Pixelbliss via Shutterstock

BRITAIN IS “VERY close” to an agreement on its Brexit bill, Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan said today – but reports that the divorce settlement could be up to €55 billion have angered both Brexiteers and europhiles.

In the past hour, the Guardian has reported that sources have indicated a deal on the Irish border in particular is imminent and that the potential draft wording of a border solution is being circulated, though the “magic formula of words has yet to materialise”.

Brussels said it wanted more progress on the Irish border issue and the rights of European expats in Britain before moving on to trade talks at a summit in December.

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier – who met German Chancellor Angela Merkel for Brexit talks – warned that “we are not there yet” but added that he “hopes very quickly, next week, to see that we have found an agreement”.

These first signs of a breakthrough have emerged days before British Prime Minister Theresa May is to meet European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Monday, in what the EU says is the “absolute deadline” for an agreement in principle.

London and Brussels have agreed that Britain will up its offer to €45-55 billion, with space for both sides to announce their own final figures, according to the Telegraph.

Belgium EU Summit British Prime Minister Theresa May. Source: Christian Hartmann

May said there was no agreement on how much Britain would be on the hook for.

“We’re still in negotiations with the European Union,” she told the BBC while on a surprise visit to Iraq. “I want a deep and special partnership with the EU in the future.”

‘Utterly unacceptable’

However, Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan said that “the United Kingdom has brought forward proposals that go very close towards meeting the requirements of the EU 27 member states.”

“I expect that we will see movement (on Ireland) in the next few days as well,” he added.

pHIL 602_90523943 Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

But there’s still work to do. The European Parliament warning, unlike most other parties in the talks who see the matter as closed, that on citizens rights negotiations are “stalled, and even some progress reversed”.

Pro-Brexit supporters reacted with anger to divorce bill reports, with leading campaigner Nigel Farage calling the figure “utterly unacceptable”.

“For a sum of this magnitude to be agreed in return for nothing more than a promise of a decent settlement on trade represents a complete and total sellout,” he wrote in the Telegraph.

Meanwhile, pro-EU Labour lawmaker Chuka Umunna said the government’s apparent climbdown was a “whopping great symbol for the impossibility on delivering Brexit on the terms it was sold to the British people.”

Investors were more optimistic that the reports heralded a breakthrough, sending the pound 0.4% higher against the dollar, a two-month high.

Foreign Secretary and Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson – who once said the EU could “go whistle” if it demanded a large settlement – today appeared to accept the deal if it unlocked the next phase of the talks.

Cabinet meeting Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson arriving in Downing Street, London, for a Cabinet meeting. Source: Victoria Jones via PA Images

“Now is the moment to get the whole ship off the rocks,” he told the BBC during an EU-Africa summit in the Ivory Coast.

Irish issue

An agreement would be a major breakthrough as Britain prepares for an EU summit in December where it is hoping to get the go-ahead to start the next phase of talks on a post-Brexit transition period and future trade ties.

The new British offer comes in two parts. The first concerns May’s commitment made in a speech in September that will cover Britain’s contributions to the EU budget in 2019 and 2020, even after leaving the bloc.

The second concerns her promise, made in the same speech in Florence, to “honour commitments” made during Britain’s four-decade membership, and after going through this line by line, the two sides have reached agreement on the detail.

So far both sides have avoided publicly declaring a clear-cut number for what Britain owes the rest of the EU, but reports and think-tanks put the first part at around €20 billion and the second at €35 billion.

Ministers agreed to boost the offer at a meeting last week.

The final issue is that of the Irish border: the Irish government and the EU is asking that the frontier remains open to people and trade – with some going further than that to say that the North should remain as part of the customs union in order to preserve the current free-flowing border.

Hogan echoed Leo Varadkar’s position that Britain must make a clear commitment on the “difficult” issue of avoiding a hard border, adding that “we don’t hear much detail in relation to how that’s going to be achieved”.

- With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha. © AFP 2017

Read: Britain will pay at least €45 billion to leave the EU – reports

Read: Taoiseach says there’s no need for Ireland to use veto

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