The UK today (16 August) announced it wants to see “no hard border in the movement of goods” between the country and Ireland, setting out its position on one of the thorniest Brexit issues.

London said there should be “no physical infrastructure” at the border between the two countries, including for sanitary and phytosanitary measures for agri-food.

In a position paper, published 24 hours after the UK set out its ideas for the post-Brexit customs arrangements between the country and the wider EU, London said “regulatory equivalence on agri-food measures” could mean there would be no need for sanitary and phytosanitary at the Irish border.

The UK also suggested it and the EU could discuss ” a cross-border trade exemption” for smaller traders. London said the exemption “would recognise the unique economic, social and cultural context of the land border and the fact that many of the movements of goods across it by smaller traders cannot be properly categorised and treated as economically significant international trade”.

James Brokenshire, the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said the country’s proposals were “flexible and imaginative ideas” and “demonstrates our desire to find a practical solution that recognises the unique economic, social and cultural context of the land border with Ireland, without creating any new obstacles to trade within the UK”.

In the position paper, London underlined its wish to maintain the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland, the rights of UK and Irish citizens and to uphold the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

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By GlobalData

Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, said having no physical border would “require a unique political solution”.

“There is now for the first time a commitment that there would be no physical infrastructure of any kind on the border. There is no straightforward solution to this; if there was we would have heard it by now,” Coveney told Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said this afternoon the two position papers published by the UK in the last 24 hours were a “positive step towards really starting phase one of negotiations”.

The spokesperson added: “The clock is ticking and this will allow us to make progress. These UK papers are a first response to the series of nine papers which the EU published before the summer. We will now carefully study the two papers.

“On Ireland, we would reiterate what [EU chief Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier has said before. We must discuss how to maintain the Common Travel Area and protect in all its dimensions the Good Friday Agreement, of which the United Kingdom is a co-guarantor. It is essential that we have a political discussion on this before looking at technical solutions.”

The UK food industry, which counts Ireland among its largest export customers, said solving the post-Brexit relationship between the two countries was “the most urgent priority” for London.

“Nearly a fifth of UK food and drink exports go to Ireland, with more than a third of Ireland’s reaching the UK. FDF therefore welcomes the Government’s commitment to preserve a seamless, frictionless, open border with the Republic,” Ian Wright, the director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said.

“Of course, these proposals can only become reality when they are agreed with the EU27. We, therefore, urge the UK and EU negotiating teams to swiftly agree practical solutions which provide business with certainty around the future of the seamless and highly valuable market in food and drink that exists between Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.”

Yesterday, London put forward two models of how post-Brexit customs could look. One is what the UK calls “a highly streamlined customs arrangement”, which would continue some of the structures currently in place, see the implementation of unilateral processes that would be negotiated and use “technology-based solutions to make it easier to comply with customs procedures”.

The second approach put forward by the UK, which London admitted is “innovative and untested”, would see the country “align our approach to the customs border in a way that removes the need for a UK-EU customs border”. Under this proposal, London suggested one method could “involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world where their final destination is the EU”.

Under the UK’s proposals, while both sides implement the new customs arrangements, both markets should introduce “a model of close association
with the EU Customs Union for a time-limited interim period”.