DUP 'open' to talks on all-Ireland food zone to ward off backstop
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds says his party is open to discussions with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a possible all-Ireland food standards zone as part of a solution to the Brexit backstop.
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Mr Johnson told MPs yesterday that he wants talks on an all-Ireland approach to agriculture and food products.
He has suggested that agri-food could continue to be regulated on an all-island basis after Brexit, creating a regulatory barrier down the Irish Sea.
The Prime Minister said he will be discussing the proposal with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin next Monday.
"We recognise that for reasons of geography and economics agri-food is increasingly managed on a common basis across the island of Ireland," he said.
"We are ready to find ways forward that recognise this reality provided it clearly enjoys the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest.
"We will also be discussing this with the EU shortly and I will be discussing it with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when I see him in Dublin on Monday."
Concerns have been raised that trade deals with countries such as the US after the UK leaves the EU could lead to a lowering of environmental and animal welfare standards or see British farmers undermined by cheaper imports that do not have to meet the same rules that producers in this country have to adhere to.
Critics have warned that some foods which are currently not permitted in the UK, could enter the food chain as a result of post-Brexit trade deals.
If Northern Ireland were to align with the Republic, it would effectively continue to follow EU rules with some food products coming from elsewhere in the UK being subject to new checks and controls at local ports.
Nigel Dodds said his party is "willing to sit down" and look at what Mr Johnson is proposing to see "what can be done".
The DUP Westminster leader told BBC Newsline: "On agri-food, there are issues there in terms of the industry but he (Boris Johnson) made the very important point that it would have to be with the consent and assent of the institutions in Northern Ireland, the Assembly which is exactly in accordance with paragraph 50 of the joint reports which we inserted.
"We're in the business of solving problems.
"We want to get a deal provided it's within the parameters of ensuring that it's not economically and constitutionally injurious to the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland," he added.