The UK will seek ‘flexible and imaginative solutions’ to keep the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland open after Brexit, a government position paper has said.
It will aim to keep the border – the UK’s only land border with the EU – invisible, with no physical immigration or customs checks.
The position paper, published today, outlines proposals to protect the common travel area that exists on the island, exempt SMEs operating across the border from any trade regulations and streamline customs for businesses that do not qualify for exemptions.
James Brokenshire, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said: “The [position] paper provides flexible and imaginative ideas and demonstrates our desire to find a practical solution that recognises the unique economic, social and cultural context of the land border with Ireland.”
Preventing the reintroduction of a physical border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is not only economically important, but is seen by both sides as an important part of maintaining the peace process established by the Good Friday Agreement.
The paper seeks to avoid any physical infrastructure or border checks.
Building on yesterday’s proposals for a new customs agreement with the EU, the government suggested such an agreement would make physical border checks unnecessary if there was a “robust enforcement mechanism” to ensure goods not compliant with EU trade rules stayed in the UK.
“This could involve, for instance, a tracking mechanism, where imports to the UK were tracked until they reached an end user, or a repayment mechanism, where imports to the UK paid whichever was the higher of the UK’s or the EU’s tariff rates and traders claimed a refund… when the goods were sold,” the paper said.
“We acknowledge this is an innovative and untested approach that would take time to develop and implement,” it added.
Simon Coveney, foreign affairs minister in the Republic, welcomed the publication of the position paper.
He said: “We will be examining [the position paper] in detail, but there are elements to be welcomed in terms of Ireland's longstanding priorities… in particular, the commitment to avoiding any physical border infrastructure for any purpose is very welcome.”
However, the Irish Government news service tweeted a quote by Coveney saying significant questions still remained unanswered.
Yesterday Guy Verhofstadt, an MEP and leader of one of the political blocs within the European Parliament, described the UK’s wider plans for a new custom’s agreement as “fantasy”.
“To be in and out of the customs union and “invisible borders” is a fantasy [sic]. First need to secure citizens rights and a financial settlement,” he tweeted.
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