Britain's Brexit negotiators are being urged to come up with a fresh plan to solve the deadlock on the Irish Border as a new round of talks on the issue continues.
Six weeks of negotiations on Ireland began on Monday last week in Brussels as part of a UK-EU deal to explore workable solutions for the Border, days after Theresa May said the Brexit transition deal struck last month would inject a "new dynamic" into talks.
However, there is creeping concern that, with less than a year to go until Brexit, Britain is no closer to finding a solution to the Border question, with no ideas considered developed enough to form the framework for a post-Brexit plan.
Sources say the proposals put on the table by Britain last week are not much different to those put forward last August, which were based on technological solutions and were dismissed by the EU as “magical thinking”.
It is said that the British team, led by Olly Robbins, have acknowledged that so-called "non-tariff barriers", and not customs checks, are the main stumbling block on the trade side of the equation.
These include the need for food hygiene and agricultural checks to accommodate the continued free flow of lamb, beef and dairy products across the Border.
The British side is suggesting that regulatory “equivalence” on both sides of the Border would ensure livestock, food and pharmaceuticals checks could remain the same, with veterinary and phytosanitary checks continuing to be executed on-site in farms and food processing plants.
However, they are also insisting on the future right to diverge from EU law, which the EU fears could open the floodgates to chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef if the UK agrees a free-trade deal with the US that includes agriculture.
It is understood the EU does not accept standards would be maintained by a voluntary alignment and is unwilling to make an exception for Ireland just to ensure an open Border.
There will be a stocktake on April 18th of the Irish talks by Robbins and the EU's deputy negotiator, Sabine Weyand.
The agenda in the first week of talks centred on customs and food and agriculture inspections and the use of Britain as a "land bridge" between Ireland and the continent – that is, preserving Irish exporters' ability to send their goods to Europe via Britain rather than by a longer route.
Issues still to come in the talks include the treatment of EU citizens in Northern Ireland who move between the region and the Republic and between the region and the rest of the UK.
Pressure is on Britain to come up with a plan by the April 18th stocktake. Unless a solution acceptable to both sides is found, the EU will insist on the backstop option of full regulatory alignment North and South of the Border, something Ms May has said she will not tolerate.
A spokesperson for Britain’s department for exiting the EU said: “We are not going to provide a running commentary on talks. However, we are determined to agree solutions to the Northern Ireland question that are acceptable to all parties.
“Our priority remains avoiding a hard Border while respecting the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK.” – Guardian service