Brexit: UK plan for Irish alignment on food, animals unlikely to pass

EU adamant backstop cannot be dismantled and applied piecemeal, sector by sector

The UK’s Brexit adviser David Frost, right, and British ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow leave EU headquarters after a meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP

The UK’s Brexit adviser David Frost, right, and British ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow leave EU headquarters after a meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Francisco Seco/AP

 

UK Brexit negotiators have suggested to the EU that the need for deeply disruptive animal and food controls on the Irish Border could be obviated after Brexit through the establishment of an all-Ireland sanitary and phytosanitary zone.

The effect of Brexit on cross-Border trade in animals and animal-based food is seen as one of the most critical challenges of Brexit.

The all-Ireland zone idea, which had been raised as a possibility earlier this week by UK prime minister Boris Johnson, and partially endorsed by a spokesman for the DUP, was tabled for discussion by the British chief negotiator David Frost on Friday in Brussels at the second round of this week’s technical discussions with the EU’s Brexit task force.

A spokesman for the UK government on Friday night said “the UK team presented some preliminary ideas on how any all-island [sanitary and phytosanitary] solutions could involve the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest, something the prime minister referred to earlier this week in parliament.

“The discussions highlighted a number of issues which would need to be considered further, and it was agreed that this would be discussed again next week.”

However, the proposals are unlikely, however, to prove acceptable to the EU or Dublin, not least because the union’s negotiators are adamant that the backstop, an insurance policy to protect a frictionless Border until a comprehensive EU-UK trade deal is agreed, cannot be dismantled and applied piecemeal, sector by sector.

British references to “consent” would also be seen as an unacceptable suggestion that the North might be able to pick and choose which rules – current or new – it would apply.

On Friday night the commission did not comment on the proposals or the talks.

Core element

Maintaining regulatory alignment of Northern Ireland and the Republic for animals and animal-based produce had been a core element of the original backstop proposals by the UK and EU. It involved treating the North separately from the rest of the UK and would necessitate controls between the North and the rest of the UK on the Irish Sea.

The backstop would also have necessitated a customs union between North and South and a common enforcement regime.

Following strong unionist objections, then prime minister Theresa May had opted instead for a backstop based on an all-UK regulatory alignment and customs union.

The UK government and the unionists had objected to what they saw as the dangerous constitutional implications of treating the North separately from the rest of the UK, although they both appear to accept that such concerns would not apply to a regulatory alignment limited only to sanitary and phytosanitary issues.

Mr Johnson has made much of what he has called the “undemocratic” nature of the backstop – the concern that Britain or the North would be a “receiver” of EU rules that they would have to apply without any say in their shaping.

That uncomfortable reality, Brussels says, is the inevitable product of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.