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Policy paper on Brexit to outline 'no return to the hard borders of the past'

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The Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border is a top priority for the UK government in Brexit negotiations (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border is a top priority for the UK government in Brexit negotiations (Brian Lawless/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Avoiding check points or any other physical infrastructure on the Irish border is the UK Government's number one priority when negotiating post-Brexit arrangements ( Brian Lawless/PA)

Avoiding check points or any other physical infrastructure on the Irish border is the UK Government's number one priority when negotiating post-Brexit arrangements ( Brian Lawless/PA)

CBI Northern Ireland chair David Gavaghan

CBI Northern Ireland chair David Gavaghan

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The Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border is a top priority for the UK government in Brexit negotiations (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Government will today publish a new position paper on post-Brexit arrangements which proposes no physical infrastructure - including customs posts - at the Irish border.

The document will lay out principles for maintaining a "seamless and frictionless border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It will outline the official stance that "there will be no return to the hard borders of the past".

The paper will disclose how the Government will push to avoid any physical border infrastructure and customs posts.

Setting out the Department for Exiting the European Union's aims in talks with Brussels, it will also suggest there may be no customs implications at all on the Irish border if the UK and EU can strike an ambitious future partnership.

The document will again dismiss any suggestion a customs border could be shifted to the Irish Sea, with checks and tariffs only in operation at entry and exit points between the island of Ireland and Britain.

Creating such a barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK was "not constitutionally or economically viable", it will state.

A Government source said: "Both sides need to show flexibility and imagination when it comes to the border issue in Northern Ireland and that is exactly what our latest position paper will do.

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"As Michel Barnier (EU chief negotiator) himself has said, the solution cannot be based on a precedent so we're looking forward to seeing the EU's position paper on Ireland.

"But it's right that as we shape the unprecedented model, we have some very clear principles.

"Top of our list is to agree upfront no physical border infrastructure - that would mean a return to the border posts of the past and is completely unacceptable to the UK."

The Government wants a time-limited transition period for customs relations of around two years. The document sets out two potential options for a long-term deal.

The first one sees the UK aligning its customs approach with the EU model which, the Government argues, would mean no need for a customs border at all between the UK and Ireland.

The second option involves highly streamlined customs arrangements involving the UK negotiating agreements with the EU to reduce trade barriers and harness technology to avoid long queues at ports.

In the Irish context it would include a continued waiver on submitting entry/exit declarations and retaining membership of the Common Transit Conventions to make it easier for companies in Northern Ireland and the Republic to transit goods.

There would be new "trusted trader arrangements" for larger traders and cross-border exemptions that would mean no new customs processes at all for smaller traders.

The paper reaffirms the Government's commitment to maintaining the almost century-old Common Travel Area, which allows for free movement of UK and Irish citizens around the island. It also includes a commitment to uphold the Good Friday Agreement in "all its parts".

The Government source said: "Our paper sets out some creative options on customs and shows the priority we place on making progress on this.

"Protecting trade is vital for the UK and Ireland - in 2015 Northern Ireland sold £10.7bn of goods to Britain and a further £2.7bn to Ireland.

"Last year Britain exported £13.6bn worth of goods to Ireland and imported £9.1bn - so we're prioritising finding a solution that protects businesses' ability to access these important markets."

CBI Northern Ireland chairman David Gavaghan welcomed the Government's recognition that an interim period was crucial to providing clarity for businesses.

"However, firms are making long-term investment decisions now and need to see much more detail from these papers," he said.

"It is vital that any future border arrangement does not jeopardise the significant progress made as a result of the strong foundations established by the St Andrews/Good Friday Agreements."

Labour MP Conor McGinn said: "These proposals on a light touch border are lighter still on detail.

"They don't outline how a frictionless or seamless border can be achieved when the UK leaves the EU and won't reassure anybody about the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland."


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