THE European Union has once again insisted that a “fully workable and legally operational” solution to the Irish border issue must be included in any Brexit deal, after suggestions from the UK that the details could be worked out after October 31.

The warning came after Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier (below, right) and UK Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay yesterday met for talks described as “serious, detailed discussions” by the latter.

The UK has put forward a “first set of concepts, principles and ideas”, Brussels said, but it added that it was “essential” that a way of avoiding a hard border with Ireland was included in the withdrawal agreement.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that the backstop – the contingency plan which will keep the UK closely tied to EU rules if no other measures are in place to avoid a hard border – must be scrapped.

Brexiteers are opposed to the backstop as it would prevent the UK from diverging from EU rules and standards and make it difficult to strike new trade deals with the United States.

But the EU insists it is an insurance policy to ensure there is no hard border if the EU and UK cannot agree a future trade deal.

Barclay has suggested that the final details of alternative arrangements would not necessarily have to be agreed until December 2020, if a deal can be reached.

But in a statement following the talks between Barclay and Barnier, the European Commission said: “It is essential that there is a fully workable and legally operational solution included in the withdrawal agreement.

“We remain willing and open to examine any such proposals that meet all the objectives of the backstop.”

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Barnier said the work on Brexit would continue with “full respect” to the UK, “our partner and ally”.

But he added: “The EU will remain vigilant and continue to apply all EU principles and values.”

Their meeting came after Ireland played down the prospect of an imminent Brexit breakthrough, pointing to a “wide gap” between Johnson’s position and that of the European Union.

Simon Coveney (below), Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said: “There are serious problems that arise because of the change in approach by the British Prime Minister – asking to remove a very significant section within the withdrawal agreement without any serious proposals as to how you solve those problems is not going to be the basis for an agreement.

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“That’s why I think there is an onus on the British Government to come forward with alternative arrangements – if they have them – which can resolve the Irish border question.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Ireland is being asked to replace a “guarantee around that border question” with a promise that “somehow we’ll do our best”.

He said: “We want to find a solution, we want to get a deal, and we want to allow the UK to leave the EU in an orderly and sensible manner, but we cannot allow Ireland to be the collateral damage of that.

“I think for Britain to ask us to do that is a very unreasonable request, and it won’t be the basis of a deal.”

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte suggested a deal would be possible by October 31 – “with a few nights of hard work a lot can be done” – but the UK must produce “real, specific proposals”.

Further Brexit talks will take place in the US next week as world leaders gather for the United Nations general assembly.

European Council President Donald Tusk will meet Irish leader Leo Varadkar and Germany’s Angela Merkel before sitting down with Johnson on Monday in New York.

Johnson has vowed that the UK will leave the EU on October 31 “do or die”. But MPs passed a bill earlier this month which would required him to seek an extension to the end of January if no deal is agreed between the UK and the EU by October 19 in order to prevent the UK crashing out with an agreement at Halloween.

Johnson has said he will not ask for an extension raising speculation he could mount a legal challenge to the No-Deal legislation.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court judges will decide early next week whether Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful. It follows a three-day hearing in London this week.