UK government sets out alternative to backstop

The UK government has set out an “amended protocol” for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is supposed to be an alternative to the backstop arrangement set out in the current withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU.

In a seven-page document released today, Wednesday, October 2, the government in London says that it is committed to finding solutions compatible to the Good Friday Agreement, and to not imposing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The document provides for “the creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland, covering not just sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) and agri-food rules, but all goods, thus eliminating regulatory checks for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

The UK government paper says that there will be a need for a “small number” of physical checks – which it envisages happening at traders’ premises located anywhere in Ireland or Northern Ireland – but that the majority of customs processes would be conducted electronically.

The paper says that these conditions should be coupled with a “firm commitment by both parties” that border checks would not be carried out at the future.

The proposals would see “regulatory checks applying between Great Britain [referring to the island of Britain, i.e. England, Scotland and Wales] and Northern Ireland, whilst Northern Ireland and Ireland would be in separate customs territories with customs controls applied to trade in goods between them”.

The UK government argues that the introduction of a regulatory compliance across Northern Ireland and the EU would remove the need for regulatory checks and related infrastructure at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The proposals outline a plan for agri-food goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain to do so at a designated point of entry, where they would be subject to identity and documentary checks, as well as physical examinations by the UK’s own authorities.

Traders moving goods from Britain to Northern Ireland would be required to notify relevant authorities before entering the north. Currently, this information is obtained and exchanged under the EU’s Union Custom Code where other third countries are concerned. Under the proposals, a new method for doing this would have to be developed.

The paper says that the UK will not apply further checks on goods moving into the Republic of Ireland once they have already arrived in the north from Britain, nor on goods moving from the republic into the north.

The paper says that the Northern Ireland assembly and executive – both of which have been suspended for over two-and-a-half years – must be able to give their consent “on an ongoing basis” to the above measures every four years. If consent is ever withheld by the north’s institutions, the measures will lapse and cease to be in effect one year after that.

The document acknowledges that the border between the republic and the north would be defined as a customs border, but outlined the need for “continuing close cooperation” between authorities here and in the UK to avoid border checks and controls. 

The paper further proposes that: “Goods would be imported or exported between Northern Ireland and Ireland under either: i) a transit mechanism; or ii) a prior declaration mechanism.

“Goods moved under either mechanism would be under customs supervision by one or other customs authority from the point at which they are declared for export until they are cleared by customs in the territory of import,” it goes on to say.

It also argued for a simplification of this process where small traders are concerned.

The document concludes by saying that the proposals “correspond to the core aims put forward by the UK and EU” and “is a proposal for an agreement which should be acceptable to both sides”.

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