British say leaked plan for all-Ireland agri-food trade after Brexit is a 'non-starter'
European Commission plans to introduce border controls between Britain and Northern Ireland after Brexit were dismissed by UK officials following the leak of an internal memo from what is believed to be the office of Jean-Claude Juncker.
The proposal would see customs controls at Northern Irish ports checking agri-food products coming from Britain to ensure they meet animal health and food safety standards. Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry would have to undertake to meet those EU standards.
A senior EU source said: "My sense would be yes, that at a high level in the commission there would be a strong push to get the British to accept that at least for agricultural products, the checks should happen between the two islands."
Under the EU plan, there could be frictionless cross-border trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but only for the important agri-food industry. The closely integrated dairy and beef industry is vital for both sides of the border.
But UK officials immediately dismissed the idea as a "non-starter", repeating that no Brexit settlement that created east-west border between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland would ever be acceptable. "The integrity of the UK is not going to be compromised," said a senior UK official.
A second UK officials said the Brussels plan was a tactical play in response to British demands for an invisible north-south border.
"It's a reminder that the logical corollary of an invisible north-south border is an east-west border that they know is a non-starter. It's a way of reminding us there is a limit to how frictionless a border the EU is prepared to accept," the source added.
Under the EU plan, customs officers would need to be approved by the EU. They could be British, if the EU agrees, but could also be from the Republic. The UK has offered to enforce EU standards on products going through Britain to the bloc after Brexit.