Trade

Experts propose alternative to Brexit backstop

LONDON – A team of experts, including a former high-ranking British official in the European Commission, has drawn up a plan to replace the Northern Ireland backstop, which has become the major hurdle to a Brexit deal.

They say the plan has already attracted “considerable interest.”

The proposal, drawn up by Jonathan Faull — who held several director general posts and was head of a special Commission task force on Brexit — and legal academics Joseph Weiler and Daniel Sarmiento, “maintains the integrity of both the EUs single market and the UKs territory;” “does not require Ireland to be treated differently from the rest of the EU or Northern Ireland to be treated differently from Great Britain;” and “does not tie the U.K. to the EU customs union, thus allowing the U.K. to pursue its own trade policy,” the group told POLITICO.

Its core principle is that the U.K. and EU are free to have distinct regulatory systems and customs regimes, but the U.K. and Ireland would make it a criminal offense to knowingly export goods across the Irish border that breach regulatory rules on the other side of the frontier.

The Irish border has been a major stumbling block in the Brexit negotiations | Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Image

To avoid customs checks at the border, the proposal envisages a network of “EU Trade Centres” in the U.K. and Ireland, but away from the border, in which “all goods destined for the EU or the U.K. respectively via Northern Ireland would be processed, including payment of duties and the like, before they actually left British or Irish territory.”

The group drew up the plan in response to the rising probability of a no-deal Brexit. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will take the U.K. out of the EU with or without an agreement — “do or die” — by October 31.

“As the prospect of a No Deal became frighteningly real we thought we would act,” Faull, Weiler and Sarmiento said in an email. “And we believed that maybe a fresh look and fresh minds not locked in to hardened positions could come up with something useful. We have grown increasingly frustrated at the tone of the debate and want to show that there is a practicable solution which should satisfy both sides.”

Asked whether the plan had been shared with EU officials or the U.K. government, the group declined to reveal the content of any discussions but said the plan has garnered “considerable interest.”

Faull told BBC Radio 4s “Today” program on Monday that he has not personally raised the plan with Downing Street but he hopes it would prompt discussion “so that we can sort something out quickly by the end of October.”

Boris Johnson, Britains prime minister | Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images

A U.K. government official said they are aware of the proposal but it has not been raised directly with No. 10 Downing Street.

Discussions on Brexit between the U.K. and the EU will continue at “sherpa” level this week, the official said, adding that “there are lots of ideas that are out there.”

The backstop, under which the U.K. would remain in a de facto customs union with the EU, is opposed by Johnson and Conservative MPs as well as MPs from Northern Irelands Democratic Unionist Party who, along with opposition parties, blocked Theresa Mays Brexit deal being ratified in the U.K. parlRead More – Source

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