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Brexit: Boris Johnson denies UK plan for customs posts on both sides of Irish border

The new proposals would see custom posts on either side of the border (David Young/PA)
The new proposals would see custom posts on either side of the border (David Young/PA)

Boris Johnson has denied that the UK wants to create a string of customs posts along both sides of the Irish border as an alternative to the backstop.

Insisting that the leaked Irish border backstop proposals were not correct Mr Johnson said: "That is not what we are proposing at all."

He said it was "absolutely not" true that he wanted to simply move border checks away from the physical border.

"There are very good reasons why that would not be a good idea... both for practical reasons and reasons of sentiment that we totally understand."

But he said it was a "reality" that some checks would be needed to create a "single customs territory" for the UK once it leaves the EU.

According to  RTE News the ideas were contained in proposals sent from London to the European Union.

Customs posts would be erected on both sides of the border but located five to ten miles 'back' from the actual land frontier.

The proposals also include a highly controversial proposal that goods moving from a so-called "customs clearance site" on the northern side of the border to a similar site on the southern side would be monitored in real time using GPS via mobile phone data, or tracking devices place on trucks or vans.

The ideas, it is claimed, are contained in one of four "non-papers" submitted by UK negotiators during recent discussions in Brussels.

Under the proposals, both the UK and EU would create what are to be called "customs clearance sites", a kind of customs post.

Businesses would have a choice of either a straightforward customs declaration which would have to be lodged and cleared on either side of the border, or the so-called "transit" system.

Under the transit scheme, the exporters becomes a registered "consigner" at base, and the importer becomes a registered "consignee".

This method would require a bond from a financial institution to guarantee that the relevant customs duty, excise and VAT have been paid and that the goods do not go illegally off the beaten track en route.

RTE reports the UK proposals have been discussed in talks with the European Commission's Brexit Task Force led by Michel Barnier.

However, the details have yet to be shared with EU member states.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has long argued the backstop, which would require Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and customs union in order to prevent a so-called "hard border", could be replaced with "alternative arrangements".

The fresh proposals would effectively give rise to customs infrastructure, albeit at some distance from the border.

RTE reports there could be up to ten such posts on either side of the border.

According to the plans, larger companies could apply for Authorised Economic Operator status, in a bid to minimise the level of customs checks.

However, smaller businesses find this status too expensive.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "This is not a viable proposal from the British Government. It is incumbent on the EU and the Irish government to make it absolutely clear that this proposal is absolutely out of the question.

"What we need on this island, north and south, is to ensure there is no hard border, that our all-island economy is protected and that the Good Friday Agreement is protected.

"The British Government's proposals fly in the face of all of that, and it is a vexatious and almost menacing suggestion."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the proposals were "unacceptable".

 “The content of these proposals fails to meet the British Government’s obligations under the December 2017 joint report to avoid physical infrastructure, checks and controls at the border.

"It doesn’t matter if it’s a mile, five miles or ten miles away, the presence of physical checks will create economic and security challenges that are unacceptable.

“People in the North didn’t vote for this. We voted to maintain seamless travel, trade and life across this island. Exporting businesses, companies with integrated cross-border supply chains and frontier workers have been clear for three years that infrastructure of this nature will damage our economy with no conceivable benefit. That is the price of this twisted ideology and we refuse to pay it.

“The root of these rotten plans is in London. That is the only place where Brexit can be stopped. We cannot continue to send MPs who support this madness or those who stand meekly on the sidelines. It is a dereliction of duty in a moment of national crisis for this island."

Alliance MEP Naomi Long dismissed the proposals on social media.

“These suggestions are totally out of question and represent a major breach of faith in this process,”the Alliance leader said.

“Those of us who have expressed concern about the creation of new infrastructure have been taunted repeatedly by the Government and its supporters with the question of "Who will build it? We won’t.” Yet here in these proposals they are suggesting they are willing to do just that.

“Throughout these negotiations, the UK Government was clear its intention was to avoid a hard border and the return of any border infrastructure in all circumstances. It was understood any such border would see a reversal of many of the gains of the Good Friday Agreement and would significantly disrupt the north-south economy and local communities. 

“Moving the posts 10 miles either direction doesn't change that.2

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