Civil servants may monitor goods made in North post-Brexit

Brussels supervision of product compliance necessary, NI businesses figures told by EU

Old Dublin Road between Dundalk and Newry: under the EU version of the backstop, potentially dangerous goods and public health products would have to meet EU rules, requiring Brussels to check compliance post-Brexit. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Old Dublin Road between Dundalk and Newry: under the EU version of the backstop, potentially dangerous goods and public health products would have to meet EU rules, requiring Brussels to check compliance post-Brexit. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Northern Ireland goods produced after Brexit could be checked for compliance with EU rules by local civil servants supervised by Brussels under proposals being considered to avoid a hard border.

EU negotiators working on “de-dramatising” the so-called backstop solution are looking at how to operate the alignment of EU rules north and south of the Irish Border that would make it more politically acceptable to Theresa May’s Conservative government in London and the Democratic Unionist Party, which is keeping her in power.

Northern Irish business figures briefed by EU officials from chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s team in Brussels on Monday were told that under the EU version of the backstop, potentially dangerous goods and public health products would have to meet EU rules, requiring Brussels to check compliance on post-Brexit products.

One solution could involve an audit team from the Republic approving Northern Irish goods after the UK quits the EU in March 2019 if they are continue to be sold unfettered in the single market.

This is likely to draw opposition from unionists so another option might see the Northern Ireland Assembly and civil servants supervising checks under EU instructions.

Unionist response

It remains uncertain how this might be achieved given the complications and solutions are still being considered under the developing proposals.

The European Commission will likely hear the response of unionists to the latest backstop proposals when Mr Barnier meets DUP leader Arlene Foster in Brussels on Tuesday.

Under the EU’s backstop proposal – the no-deal default option to avoid a hard border should no better solution be found in an overarching EU-UK trade agreement – Northern Irish traders would be registered for VAT north and south of the Border in order to trade across the island.

Northern Irish companies would also need to comply with EU state aid controls to be able to sell into the single market to create an even playing field and maintain a frictionless border.

Future customs arrangements under the backstop – and how tariffs would be collected on goods coming into Northern Ireland from outside the EU – remain unclear as the UK has yet to present formally its proposal for its own version of the no-hard-border guarantee, though Brussels is expecting a proposal shortly.

Backstop proposal

The British government has been working on a backstop proposal that would result in the whole of the UK effectively remaining in the EU customs union for a temporary period beyond the end of the no-change transition period in December 2020 and Northern Ireland remaining aligned with the EU for goods.

The EU is working on language around minimised technical checks that would be required between Northern Ireland and Britain under its latest iteration of the politically softened backstop.

London must produce a legal text on the backstop, fulfilling a commitment made in political agreements in December 2017 and March 2018 during Brexit negotiations, if a withdrawal treaty is to be agreed.

Brussels has said that there cannot be a withdrawal treaty covering the UK’s departure from the EU without a backstop solution for Northern Ireland.

European Council president Donald Tusk has called next week’s summit of EU leaders a “moment of truth” for the EU and the UK to agree a withdrawal agreement.