Tory Brexiteers claim technology can keep Irish Border open in new plan

Rees-Mogg’s group’s report suggests customs can be conducted away from the Border

The Border can remain open after Brexit through the use of technology and by modifying existing arrangements, the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative Brexiteers has claimed. In a report published in London on Wednesday, the group says that the issue of the Border has been allowed to frame negotiations over Brexit.

“The key obstacle in the negotiations is the EU’s concern that goods could enter into the single market area through the Irish Border without being compliant with EU standards or tariffs. The question for the EU is whether this risk to the integrity of the single market is so serious that it could block a free trade agreement with the UK,” it says.

The position paper was introduced by ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg with a panel including former Brexit secretary David Davis, former Northern Ireland secretaries Theresa Villiers and Owen Patterson and former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble.

The report was published a day after ERG members were reported to have devoted their weekly meeting on Tuesday evening to discussing how and when to push Theresa May out of office but Mr Rees-Mogg and Mr Davis both insisted that she had their full support despite their opposition to her Chequers proposal.


“We’ve got a very good prime minister,” Mr Davis said.

“I disagree with her on one issue, it’s this issue. She should stay in place because we need stability, and we need decent government as the backdrop for what we’re doing in the coming next six months.”

Trusted traders

The paper suggests that customs, VAT, product compliance and rules of origin checks could be conducted away from the Border, using trusted trader schemes and simplified procedures for declarations. It says that the EU and the UK could agree an equivalence regime for agricultural products.

It acknowledges that the island of Ireland should remain a common biosecurity zone, which would mean that current animal and plant health checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be maintained.

"Such measures can ensure that the trade across the Irish border is maintained. The EU will be able to maintain the integrity of its internal market without erecting a hard border along its border with Northern Ireland. At the same time, the United Kingdom will be able to develop a fully independent trade policy rather than remaining a rule-taker," the paper says.

Mr Rees-Mogg said the paper sought to address the Border issue from the point of view of the EU’s need to maintain the integrity of the single market and Mr Davis said it was aimed at unlocking the negotiations.

“This is a fabulously practical and sensible approach to this. The only way we are going to resolve this issue and unlock the negotiation is by engaging on a practical level with these proposals in a way that the Union has not yet done,” Mr Davis said.

‘Positive and timely’

The DUP's leader at Westminster Nigel Dodds welcomed the proposals as a "positive and timely" development.

“The paper makes clear that in the event of a free trade deal being negotiated with the EU there are sensible, practical measures which can ensure they will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic,” he said.

Josh Hardie, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, described the report as disappointing.

“There is no solution to agreeing a backstop, without which the negotiations will not move forward and the much-needed transition will become a cliff edge,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times