Belfast Telegraph

EU reject Johnson proposal that would give Stormont a say on new 'backstop-lite' workaround

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Boris Johnson's first proposal for a replacement to the backstop is understood to have stalled in the latest meeting between his chief negotiator and the EU.

It would seek to give Stormont a say on the arrangement, but is said to have been rejected by the EU.

The prime minister's envoy David Frost proposed an all-Ireland food standards zone on Friday.

A report in the Guardian says commission negotiators said such a proposal would leave Ireland in a constant state of uncertainty over the future.

It comes as EU sources spoke of their doubts over ongoing talks given the likelihood of an imminent general election and Boris Johnson's insistence his negotiating position has been wrecked by no-deal being taken off the table.

Mr Johnson has suggested that Northern Ireland stay aligned with EU standards on agrifoods, which would remove the need for sanitary checks on animals and animal products crossing the border on the island of Ireland.

This measure would not cover other goods and wouldn't address the issue of VAT and customs checks.

He's insisted that the Irish backstop must be ditched from the withdrawal agreement.

Mr Johnson also referenced the comments of the former DUP leader Ian Paisley who had said of Northern Ireland that the people were British but “the cattle were Irish”.

The UK has suggested there is a need for Stormont to be able to vote on the continuation of the proposed common regulatory area - a move which has been described by EU officials as “backstop-lite”.

The discussion over the common agrifood area was said to be "cursory" and further discussions are expected over the UK's alternative to the backstop next week.

Irish government sources are also said to have rejected Mr Johnson's proposal, saying the protection of the economy was a vital part of the Good Friday Agreement and that the responsibility for protecting the peace process lay with Westminster, instead of with Stormont.

The source said: “The EU negotiates with the UK authorities at the departing stage and not its constituent elements.

"Having Stormont overturn an agreed and ratified agreement at a later stage prior to the backstop entering into force will undermine the withdrawal. A curious ask given the fact that currently Stormont hasn’t sat for over two years?"

A UK government spokesman said: “The prime minister’s sherpa David Frost and a cross-government team met officials from the commission’s A50 taskforce today.

"The UK team presented some preliminary ideas on how any all-island SPS solutions could involve the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest – something the prime minister referred to earlier this week in parliament. The discussions highlighted a number of issues which would need to be considered further and it was agreed that this would be discussed again next week."

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