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Rees-Mogg's Brexit plan for Northern Ireland divides opinion

A European Research Group paper proposes “equivalence” of UK and EU rules on agricultural products.

Rees-Mogg and Davis deny plotting to overthrow Prime Minister

Sinn Fein has dismissed as "pure fantasy" a proposal from a group of Conservative hard Brexiteers on the future of the Irish border.

The European Research Group (ERG) of Tory backbenchers – led by Jacob Rees-Mogg – believe the Government has allowed the border question to become a roadblock to achieving a Canada-style Free Trade Agreement with the EU.

The group outlines a proposal it believes could allow the UK to leave the EU’s single market and customs union without the need for a hard border in Ireland.

Leading the criticism of the proposal, Sinn Fein MP for the border constituency of South Down Chris Hazzard, said it showed "again that the Tories do not care about Ireland or the effects that any Brexit deal will have on the Irish people".

"They are not designed to offer a solution but result from the civil war raging internally within the British Conservative Party," he said.

“These proposals are a rehash of the unacceptable and already rejected and failed notion that a technological border can be put imposed post Brexit. They are pure fantasy with no attempt to set out how they can actually be achieved.

“It is interesting but not surprising to note that there is absolutely no reference to rights, to freedom of movement or to the role of the European Court of Justice in these proposals."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, whose party backed Brexit, said the paper presented 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 there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic," he said.

"It therefore accurately reflects the fact that the border issue is no impediment to the negotiation by the UK of a comprehensive trade deal with the EU. This a position we have consistently articulated."

He added: "For too long some have used the border issue, and the political process in Northern Ireland more generally, to try to mould Brexit to their way of thinking or to thwart it altogether. That should stop."

Many of the technology-based solutions put forward in Wednesday's paper have previously been rebuked by experts in the field.

In August 2017, the Centre for Irish and European Security said suggestions of a "frictionless" border were "complete nonsense".

In the new paper, the group propose the Government should agree equivalence of UK and EU regulations and conformity assessment for all agricultural goods on the island of Ireland.

The EU will be able to maintain the integrity of its internal market without erecting a hard border along its border with Northern Ireland.

European Research Group

Northern Ireland and the Republic would be maintained as a Common Biosecurity Zone after Brexit, allowing the smooth movement of these products across the border.

“Since UK and EU standards are identical and will remain identical at the point of departure, determining equivalence after Brexit should be straightforward,” said the document.

For other goods, the ERG said existing simplified customs procedures could continue to be used to avoid the need for checks at the border.

Larger companies would use “trusted trader” schemes to clear their goods for export and import, and other declarations would be incorporated into the existing system used for VAT returns.

“The EU will be able to maintain the integrity of its internal market without erecting a hard border along its border with Northern Ireland,” said the ERG paper, launched in Westminster.

“At the same time, the United Kingdom will be able to develop a fully independent trade policy rather than remaining a rule-taker.

“At the same time, the United Kingdom will be able to develop a fully independent trade policy rather than remaining a rule-taker.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg arrives at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall to discuss the group’s proposals (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“The one element of ‘alignment’ necessary is the maintenance of the current Common Biosecurity Zone covering the island of Ireland, and this is not contentious.

“The necessary procedures described can all be implemented within the existing legal and operational frameworks of the EU and the UK, based on the mutual trust on which regular trade depends.

“Rational, pragmatic approaches can ensure that the vital trade across the border is maintained. At the same time, this allows the United Kingdom to conduct an independent trade policy without threatening the integrity of the EU single market.”

The ERG said its proposals could be delivered without the need for any new infrastructure at the border and without weakening North-South co-operation.

“There is nothing which would reduce our commitment to the Belfast Agreement, or which might jeopardise peace in Northern Ireland,” the group said.

“Harnessing the latest developments in international best practice can deliver continued co-operation and prosperity in the best interests of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.”

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Jacob Rees-Mogg arrives at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall to discuss the group’s proposals (Stefan Rousseau/PA)