British government appoints expert panel on ‘soft border’ options

Advisory group to explore ‘alternative arrangements’ to keep Border open after Brexit

The British government has appointed an expert panel to explore "alternative arrangements" to keep the Border open and avoid introducing the Northern Ireland backstop after Brexit.

The Technical Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group, which will meet for the first time on Thursday is the first of three advisory groups to be appointed next year and will be followed by a business and trade union panel and a panel of parliamentarians. The advisory group will be chaired by Brexit secretary Steve Barclay and financial secretary to the treasury Jesse Norman.

“There has been considerable debate about the alternative arrangements that could be put in place to replace the backstop, including how we could harness the power of cutting-edge technologies, trusted trader schemes, and IT systems,” Mr Barclay said.

“There has also been shared recognition by both the UK Government and the EU Commission that this work must be an absolute priority as we shape the future partnership. The technical group will provide a forum for experts to discuss workable alternative arrangements, assessing both capability and timelines and bringing their significant experience to bear.”


Dublin and Brussels have endorsed the search for alternative arrangements to replace the backstop but they insist that the technology does not yet exist and that the backstop must be introduced as part of the withdrawal agreement.

The advisory group includes Michael Bell, executive director of Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association; Tim Mairs PSNI assistant chief constable; Katy Hayward, reader in social divisions and conflict at Queen’s University Belfast; and Dutch customs expert Hans Maessen.

“This group represents a broad spectrum of views and expertise, all of which will be needed to achieve our economic, fiscal and security objectives in the unique circumstances of the Northern Ireland land border,” Mr Barclay said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times