Irish Sea border plan for agriculture proposed in secret UK papers

Dublin says no real alternative to backstop offered

Nigel Dodds: DUP chief would welcome all-Ireland food standards. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Nigel Dodds: DUP chief would welcome all-Ireland food standards. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Kevin Doyle and Ciaran Moran

Britain proposed an all-island economy for food and agricultural products - effectively creating a border in the Irish Sea in an alternative to the backstop.

This was described as the "most practical" and "deliverable" alternative in a dossier for the UK government.

However, there is a warning the solution "comes with many of the challenges of the backstop", including the likelihood of checks on goods travelling between the North and mainland UK.

It is understood the existing 11 pages would have informed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's arguments if he met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar next Monday as planned. That meeting is now in doubt amid political chaos in the House of Commons.

Some proposals edge towards Ireland effectively exiting the single market - something totally unacceptable to the Government here.

Sources in Dublin said the document offered "nothing" that amounted to a genuine alternative to the backstop.

Ministers Simon Coveney, Heather Humphreys and Helen McEntee launch the ‘Getting Your Business Brexit Ready – Practical Steps’ campaign at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Ministers Simon Coveney, Heather Humphreys and Helen McEntee launch the ‘Getting Your Business Brexit Ready – Practical Steps’ campaign at the RDS in Dublin. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

"There is nothing in there that lives up to the British obligations. Every option would lead to checks and infrastructure somewhere," a source said.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney also told a private meeting of business chiefs yesterday the UK has yet to put forward any proposals to replace the backstop.

The secret papers prepared for Mr Johnson show the best substitute for the backstop is broadly similar to what is currently on the table - and would create a border down the Irish Sea.

Dated August 28 and marked "official-sensitive", the document said "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be the most likely way of breaking the current impasse.

The document, obtained by the Irish Independent, was prepared for the EU Exit Negotiations Board and sets out a timeline for the UK to actually produce alternative ideas to the backstop,

Mr Johnson wants the backstop totally scrapped from the Withdrawal Agreement.

It states a 'technical group' investigating alternatives is due to meet and a paper would be provided to the EU exit strategy cabinet committee next week. It is chaired by Mr Johnson and is made up of just five others including the chancellor, attorney general and Brexit secretary.

Researchers pulled together the findings of all advisory groups informing the UK government in a bid to determine which alternative arrangements to pursue.

The proposals include the establishment of a 'Border code' to be used by industry, a trusted trader system and mobile checks of goods.

One idea suggests "Irish alignment with the UK" so that a "new common rulebook" could be shared across the two islands. This would effectively mean Ireland coming out of the EU single market.

"It is evident that every facilitation has concerns and issues related to them," the report said.

"The complexity of combining them into something more systemic and as part of one package is a key missing factor at present."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds says 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.

Irish Independent