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Dodds claims leaking of UK Brexit border proposals 'act of sabotage'

Nigel Dodds (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Nigel Dodds (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has claimed that a British proposal to create customs posts along the border was leaked by someone trying to sabotage the current negotiations.

He told the Belfast Telegraph last night that he hadn't seen the paper, which was out of date, and he suspected it was released by a Brussels source seeking to harm ongoing talks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday denied that the leaked plan to break the Brexit deadlock was the "actual" version he would imminently propose to the EU.

"We don't want to see new border posts just away from the border," he said. "There may be some confusion about that."

But he added that customs checks in Ireland would be necessary after Brexit.

The proposals, contained in discussion papers submitted by London to Brussels, would mean customs posts being erected on both sides of the border but located five to 10 miles back from the actual frontier.

They were contained in a 'non-paper', which is an informal document usually employed to test the reaction of other parties to possible solutions.

Mr Dodds said: "I don't recognise these proposals. I think someone deliberately went with an out of date paper in order to damage the prospects of getting an agreement.

"They may see the movement away from the previous mantra that the withdrawal agreement is not open to renegotiation, and be aiming to prevent that."

Mr Dodds said his party was continuing to work with Downing Street to find a solution with the EU and would redouble its efforts to "stop the derailers" from succeeding.

Secretary of State Julian Smith said: "I don't know where these papers have come from, I've not seen them, I don't know who's written them, but I'm clear that we can't have customs facilities in the places mentioned in the reports.

"Five or 10 miles from the border is still an issue and I am clear on that, and the Government is clear, that the Good Friday Agreement needs to be respected," he told the BBC.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said that the proposal for custom clearance zones was "unworkable and unacceptable" for border towns and communities.

"We do not want any hardening of the border and we do not want any customs checks anywhere near us," he said.

"The British Government promised multiple times that they will not erect a border in Ireland.

"These very plans do just that. It doesn't matter whether checks take place on the border or 10 miles from it, it is still a hardening of the border."

Mr McCrossan added: "Despite Boris now backtracking on this leak, it's clear this Tory Government haven't a clue what they are doing. They have been reckless and have been playing with people's lives and livelihoods.

"It's time the British Government stopped giving into the DUP and got back to the table with proposals that actually facilitate the status quo rather than policies of division."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "Boris Johnson's latest position doesn't provide any reassurance.

"In contrast to Theresa May, he has moved away from the backstop, which would avoid any customs interface to the island, to instead how to manage different customs zones.

"This situation is fundamentally at odds with Good Friday Agreement and the all-island economy. Even checks away from the border will create burdens for businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises and would create significant opportunities for smuggling."

Prime Minister’s hurdles to clear ahead of Brexit

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will table the Government’s formal proposals for a new Brexit deal with Brussels in the coming days.

What are the issues which need to be resolved?

Inevitably, it comes down to the backstop. Under the withdrawal agreement, if at the end of the transition period after Britain leaves the EU there is no long-term trade agreement with Brussels in place, the UK would effectively remain part of the EU customs union while negotiations continue.

But Mr Johnson says this is unacceptable as it could potentially leave Britain tied to EU customs arrangements indefinitely. It would also mean the UK would remain subject to EU regulations over which it would have no say.

What is the PM’s alternative?

One part of the package is for an all-Ireland regime for agri-food products, avoiding the need for checks at the border.

At the same time, Mr Johnson is adamant that the UK, including Northern Ireland, is leaving the customs union, so the second part would involve “de-dramatising” controls for other goods.

How would they do that?

RTE reported that UK officials have suggested the checks could be carried out at a series of “customs clearance centres” between five and 10 miles back from the border on either side. Mr Johnson has insisted that is not the UK plan, but has yet to say what he is proposing.

What happens if the UK and EU cannot get a deal?

Under the Benn Act, if there is no deal by October 19 the PM is required to ask Brussels for a further extension to Britain’s withdrawal date. While Mr Johnson has said that he will abide by the law, he has also been adamant that Britain is leaving on October 31 come what may. How, in the absence of a deal, he could meet both commitments he has yet to explain.

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