“Alternative Arrangements” for Irish Border are Backstop by Another Name

26 June 2019, Ross Matthewman

Responding to the report from the Alternative Arrangements Commission on proposals for the Northern Irish border post-Brexit, CIEH has welcomed the proposals but noted they seek to provide the same solutions as the Backstop.

The Alternative Arrangements Commission’s report looks at ways to avoid the “Irish Backstop” included in the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, and made a series of recommendations to ensure there is no need for a hard border after Brexit.

With food standards being a key border issue, due to strict EU rules on food products entering from a non-member state, the Commission recommends a single zone for food standards across Britain and Ireland which would be closely aligned with the EU.

Gary McFarlane, Northern Ireland Director at CIEH, said:

“Whilst we welcome these tangible proposals to address the serious issue of the Northern Ireland border post-Brexit, these are essentially the same solutions as offered in the existing Backstop, just in another name and with slightly different processes.

Whilst these proposals could lead the way to an agreement, and avoid a hard border, which is of course to be welcomed, many vital questions remain.

With the Commission’s proposals requiring the UK to meet, or even exceed, current EU standards, a new process of assessment and monitoring would need to be created as the EU will need to agree to those standards being equivalent, alongside a new process of verification. This could lead to additional costs and how would these be funded?

And then there are constitutional questions. If the UK decides to move away from EU standards, what happens if the Northern Irish Executive moves to align itself with the Republic of Ireland as the proposals suggest could happen? This could create divergence between NI Food products and those from Great Britain. And that then raises questions about how GB products entering NI would be dealt with?

Under this scenario, the Scottish Government could ask for similar powers to choose Scotland’s own level of alignment with the EU. Threatening to further fragment the United Kingdom.

We welcome the fact that there appears to be an underlying realisation and acceptance now that we must have a workable agreement between the UK and the EU post EU exit to avoid the necessity for checks on food. There is no technical fix to the problem and without such agreement physical checks are inevitable.

There are a great deal of politics at play, but ensuring food standards and safety across our country after Brexit must remain of paramount importance.”

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