UK-Irish food zone suggested as alternative to backstop - report
A report setting out how ‘alternative arrangements’ to the Brexit backstop has suggested the formation of a new single zone for food standards
The ‘Alternative Arrangements Commission’ (AAC) claims to have found a combination of measures that will help avoid a hard border in Ireland.
The group, which is chaired by senior Tories, says the new way of facilitating cross-country trade would be expensive but would also protect the Good Friday Agreement.
Among the more controversial elements of the plan is that Britain and Ireland form a single zone for food standards. It suggests that rules in the zone would remain closely aligned with the EU.
In their interim report the AAC recommends:
- Investigating the possibility of creating special economic zones to cover the border;
- Creating a multi-tier trusted trader programme for large and medium-sized companies, with exemptions for the smallest firms;
- Using mobile units to carry out sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks - covering food safety and plant and animal health - away from the border;
- And drafting an alternative arrangements protocol which could be inserted into either the Withdrawal Agreement or used in any other Brexit outcome.
It is suggested that if the British and Irish government began work on the project today then it would be possible to put a 2022 time limit on the backstop.
The Irish government has repeatedly ruled out the idea of an end date for the backstop on the grounds that it must be in place until a workable alternative is up and running. This position is backed up by other EU countries.
The commission was chaired by Tory former ministers Nicky Morgan and Greg Hands.
Treasury Select Committee chairwoman Mrs Morgan said: “The commission has met its three conditions: to uphold the vital Belfast-Good Friday Agreement; to harness existing technologies and customs best practice, not any futuristic high-tech unicorns; and to be compatible with any of the possible Brexit outcomes, including the existing Withdrawal Agreement.
“A successful agreement and roll-out of alternative arrangements would supersede the need for the backstop.”
The report says “sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS)” tests could be carried out by mobile units away from the border.
However, the DUP, which underpins the Tory government through a confidence and supply deal, is opposed to checks on farms and in food-production plants.
The idea of a multi-tier trusted trader programme for large and small companies was previously proposed by the UK in August 2017 and dismissed by the EU.
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