Northern Ireland

Reaction to 'customs clearance zones' suggestion

A No Border No Brexit sticker close to the Hands Across the Divide peace statue Image copyright Getty Images

The UK government has suggested creating "customs clearance zones" along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as part of proposals for reaching a Brexit deal.

Goods could be declared and cleared at the sites, then their movement would be monitored possibly via mobile phone GPS data or tracking devices.

The ideas are contained in one of four so-called non-papers, extracts of which have been seen by RTÉ, submitted by UK officials during recent technical discussions in Brussels.

However they have not gone down well with some politicians and business leaders, who regard the backstop as a necessary protection.

Deputy Irish prime minister Simon Coveney tweeted: "Non-Paper = Non-Starter. Time the EU had a serious proposal from the UK Govt if a #Brexit deal is to be achievable in October. NI and IRE deserves better!"

Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald tweeted the proposal to "reimpose a hard border on our island... is out of the question".

The party's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the move was "farcical and raises risk of no deal".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood criticised the government for failing to meet its obligations under the December 2017 joint proposal with the EU, in which it committed to avoiding physical infrastructure at the border.

"It does not matter if it is a mile, five miles or 10 miles away, the presence of physical checks will create economic and security challenges that are unacceptable," he said.

"People in the north didn't vote for this. We voted to maintain seamless travel, trade and life across this island."

Alliance leader Naomi Long echoed Mr Eastwood's criticism that the government had gone back on commitments made in 2017.

Mrs Long added the issue had "never been about the location of new border infrastructure but that it would be created at all".

However, TUV leader Jim Allister accused Dublin and the EU of trying to "strangle at birth UK's rational border proposals".

"The reality of proper Brexit is that UK and RoI will be separate nations, one independent, the other a vassal state of the EU," he said.

"Each must provide and protect their own borders if EU refuses a reasonable deal. Out means out."

'Buffer zone'

Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said if the proposals were true, they showed the government had not listened to business in Northern Ireland.

The move also "ripped up" the joint declaration of December 2017 between the EU and UK.

Seamus Leheny, from the Freight Transport Association, tweeted the proposal contradicted "every single piece of feedback & advice that we in NI business community has given to the government".

Angela McGowan, director of the NI branch of the Confederation of British Industry, said the proposals were an "absolute disgrace".

Manufacturing NI also tweeted its opposition to the proposal, which it said had already been rejected by business and farming communities.

Lisa Chambers, Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on Brexit, said the proposal was "effectively a border with a buffer zone and clearly not a satisfactory alternative".

She called for "sensible workable solutions that ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland".

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