‘Workable’ alternative is available to solve Irish backstop issue, says customs expert

Written by Martin Banks on 26 September 2019 in News
News

A former senior customs official says a “workable” alternative is available to solve the Irish border issue in the protracted Brexit talks.

An actor takes part in an anti-Brexit rally at the Irish border  | Photo credit: Press Association


Speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Lars Karlsson, a Swedish customs expert, told a meeting that the deployment of “smart borders” could help unlock the problem.

The UK government could, he argued, avoid the Northern Ireland backstop being triggered by satisfying a set of “agreed obligations” based on “alternative arrangements.”

This, he said, would ensure that the backstop “is no more than an insurance policy.”


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He was one of the keynote speakers at a meeting hosted by UK Conservative MEP Nosheena Mobarik which launched a new report designed to promote a Brexit deal breakthrough.

Mobarik, Conservative trade spokesman in Parliament, drew together a range of senior figures from the EU institutions as well as experts from the Prosperity UK think tank, which presented the findings of a 275-page study “Getting a Better Brexit Deal.”

Karlsson, who heads the Swedish KGH Border Services, said, “This proposal is not a unicorn, something we have just invented. It allows for some controls and compliance and is an opportunity to resolve this issue.”

Mobarik, a Scottish deputy, agreed, saying: “I believe there is no lack of will to strike a Brexit deal - what has been lacking in negotiations are the real-world, practical ideas to make a different deal workable. We should remain open to all creative practical and technically robust options to secure agreement between the UK and the EU27.”

“This proposal is not a unicorn, something we have just invented. It allows for some controls and compliance and is an opportunity to resolve this issue” Lars Karlsson, Swedish customs expert

The report brings together the work of Prosperity UK's Alternative Arrangements Commission (ACC), led by two British MPs, Greg Hands and Suella Braverman.

Members of the AAC presented their recommendations at the meeting and, as well as Karlsson, speakers included Shanker Singham of the AAC, and Tony Smith, former Director General of UK Border Force.

The AAC is a cross-party initiative led by Hands, who campaigned to Remain in 2016, and Braverman, who campaigned to Leave.

Singham said the objective was to develop a Brexit “package” including an amended Political Declaration, changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and “alternative arrangements” to the backstop that are capable of winning a majority in the House of Commons and avoiding the UK leaving the EU with no deal on 31 October.

He said the AAC proposal offered an alternative for a new Withdrawal Agreement which can be “up and running within 2-3 years” and proposes changes to the Political Declaration to allow for a “comprehensive” Free Trade Agreement.

He said, “If a no deal is to be avoided, alternative arrangements to the Withdrawal Agreement must be considered as soon as possible.”

“What has been lacking in [Brexit] negotiations are the real-world, practical ideas to make a different deal workable” Nosheena Mobarik MEP

The AAC proposals, he said, were "fully workable", offering "practical and technical solutions" to the backstop issue - the single biggest obstacle to a deal being struck between the UK and EU.

Smith, who pointed out that he has widespread experience in tackling complex border issues around the world, told the meeting, “No two borders are the same. They all have their own unique challenges and there is no such thing as a perfect border.

“But it is just plain wrong to say that, currently, there are no checks on the Irish border because there are.”

He warned, though, that the installation of any "physical" infrastructure, such as cameras, on the border could be "dangerous" to the Good Friday Agreement.

He added, “We also have to remember in all this that the Good Friday Agreement is critical to the Irish border and preserving peace on the island of Ireland.  It is imperative therefore that the Good Friday Agreement is preserved.”

The Alternative Arrangements Commission drafted two protocols to make “alternative arrangements” legally operative, added Singham.

“The Good Friday Agreement is critical to the Irish border and preserving peace on the island of Ireland. It is imperative therefore that the Good Friday Agreement is preserved” Tony Smith, former Director General of UK Border Force

He said that the proposals “build on the success” of the Brady amendment, which passed in the House of Commons with a majority of 16 in January.

The report said that Brexit “will inevitably involve a degree of change across all segments of the economy.”

It adds, “This needs to be recognised by all parties as discussions relating to Alternative Arrangements develop.”

“Our report does not attempt to assess the desirability of Brexit; it seeks to identify practical solutions to the challenges posed by this impending change. As with any changes from the status quo, there will inevitably be extra cost and administration.”

“But our consultation has highlighted how understandings of the backstop vary vastly across the spectrum of policy makers and interest groups we have met.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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