Northern Ireland

Brexit: UUP sets out Irish border backstop alternative plans

Signs near Irish border Image copyright Reuters

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) has set out its alternative proposals to the Irish border backstop.

The plans would include the creation of a new criminal offence for knowingly transporting non-compliant goods through the UK to the EU.

It also proposes creating a cross-border body to monitor and regulate trade across the Irish border.

Other alternative proposals to the backstop have previously been rejected by the European Union.

The backstop is a position of last resort to prevent the hardening of the Irish border in the absence of other solutions.

It would see Northern Ireland staying aligned to some rules of the EU single market and the whole of the UK, forming a "temporary single customs territory" with the EU.

But unionist political parties in Northern Ireland are opposed to NI being treated differently to the rest of the UK.

BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor John Campbell said the UUP's alternative proposals were similar to those put forward in August by former British European Commission official Sir Jonathan Faull.

Sir Jonathan had suggested the EU and UK could maintain their own customs and regulatory regimes while using their laws to protect each others' markets.

He also proposed creating "trade centres" away from the Irish border, but the EU poured cold water on the proposals.

Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) Simon Coveney said on Friday that the British government had suggested no credible alternative to the backstop.

Image copyright Getty Images

The UUP said it was putting forward its ideas in good faith, in a bid to break the impasse over the backstop.

The party's former leader, Lord Empey, who took the lead in developing the proposals, told the Press Association his party had presented an "Irish solution to an Irish problem".

He added: "What we are trying to do is to stimulate a debate. We need a solution.

The roaring and shouting that has accompanied Boris Johnson's activities in the last period doesn't remove the need for a deal and it doesn't remove the need for a solution to the problem."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Former UUP leader Lord Empey helped develop the proposals

Lord Empey also said he recognised the right of the Republic of Ireland and the wider EU to protect the integrity of the single market.

He has proposed the UK offers securities to the EU instead of the backstop in order to assure the bloc that it is serious about preventing infractions.

He said: "What we are saying is the United Kingdom would make it an offence for its territory to be used to subvert the single market by sending goods through the UK to the single market knowing they were not compliant with single market rules, so people could be prosecuted as a result of that."

It would also see the UK compensate the EU against such infractions, with the British assuming the legal responsibility for the damage.

The UUP also said that goods crossing the Irish border could be regulated and monitored by a new north-south body, which could replace the need for check points on the border.

The party has proposed extending the Good Friday Agreement to create the new body, which it suggested could also inform companies about divergence between UK and EU markets and inspect depots and business premises to ensure compliance.

More on this story