All-island agri-food solution is floated in bid to deliver backstop alternative
Ireland's agri-food industry is hoping that events in Westminster this week will lead to a more sensible resolution to cross-Border trade post-Brexit.
With British prime minister Boris Johnson losing his majority in parliament and the DUP in many ways losing its position as 'kingmaker', it may open the possibility of an agri-food regulatory regime in Northern Ireland that would see it stay in alignment with the European Union.
Mr Johnson used the former first minister Ian Paisley's suggestion that people in Northern Ireland were British "but our cows are Irish" to bolster support for an agri-food regulatory regime.
Yesterday, UK Brexit negotiator David Frost proposed in Brussels that a common sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) area under EU SPS rules could be established across the whole island of Ireland as an alternative to the backstop.
"The UK team presented some preliminary ideas on how any all-island SPS solutions could involve the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest - something the PM referred to earlier this week in parliament," a British government spokesperson said.
"The discussions highlighted a number of issues which would need to be considered further and it was agreed this would be discussed again next week."
Mr Johnson's reference to Rev Paisley - later Lord Bannside - will be seen as an attempt to ease DUP concerns, as the proposal appears to cross its red line of having a border in the Irish Sea.
In an apparent softening of its position, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said his party is open to discussions with Mr Johnson on a possible all-Ireland food standards zone, as part of a solution to the Brexit backstop.
Dairy Industry Ireland welcomed signals from the British prime minister that he is becoming open to the idea of an all-Ireland agri-food area for regulation.
Director Conor Mulvihill said that it made rational sense to protect both farmers and processors across the island of Ireland.
He encouraged the UK government to quickly give legal certainty to the idea.
He warned that this would not solve all of the issues for agri-food on the island of Ireland, and said that a range of other issues such as customs arrangements, tariffs, VAT, origin and certification, to name a few, still needed to be addressed by a comprehensive backstop arrangement, to allow full and frictionless trade.
IFA president Joe Healy said the prospect of Border checks in the event of a hard Brexit would make agri trading here and with the UK very difficult.
He said: "Because we have a shared land Border, we have developed a highly integrated agri-food sector, North and south. Over €1.2bn worth of agri products move across the Border each year. Imposing a structure of checks and controls would be very expensive and, ultimately, the cost will fall back on farmers."