Brexit: New UK plan for Northern Ireland to stay in single market

The government has delivered its new Brexit proposals to the EU, including plans to replace the Irish backstop.

The plan, outlined in a seven-page document, would see Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods, but leave the customs union – resulting in new customs checks.

The Northern Ireland Assembly would get to approve the arrangements first and vote every four years on keeping them.

The European Commission says it will “examine [the proposals] objectively”.

The UK is set to leave the EU on 31 October and the government has insisted it will not negotiate a further delay beyond the Halloween deadline.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference earlier on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said the only alternative to his Brexit plan was no-deal.

In a letter to European Commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister said the new proposals “respect the decision taken by the people of the UK to leave the EU, while dealing pragmatically with that decision’s consequences in Northern Ireland and in Ireland”.

Government sources said they believed they could enter an intense 10-day period of negotiations with the EU almost immediately, with the aim of coming to a final agreement at an EU summit on 17 October.


John Campbell, the BBC’s Northern Ireland business editor, said the UK’s acknowledgement there would be new customs checks for cross-border trade would make it very hard for the Irish government to accept the package.

The EU will analyse these proposals and probably keep the door open to further talks with UK so there’s no risk of being blamed for a no-deal Brexit.

They will likely welcome the massive increase in regulatory alignment proposed for Northern Ireland – which a few days ago was only going to cover food and agriculture and now covers virtually all goods.

The UK will also allow the European Court of Justice to administer EU law in Northern Ireland.

The customs arrangement is based on a lot of trust and a lot of checks, including at “dedicated premises” which sound a bit like the customs infrastructure the EU wants to avoid.

But there will be lots of information about goods travelling into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, which the government could share with the EU.

There’s also a big problem with the exit mechanism for the Northern Irish Assembly: is this handing the DUP a veto, and what happens if they decide to end the backstop arrangements?

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – long-term critics of the backstop and partners of the Conservative Party in Parliament – gave a cautious welcome to the proposals.

In a statement, the DUP said the plan “demonstrates commitment to working with our neighbours” in Ireland and respected “the integrity of Northern Ireland’s economic and constitutional position within the United Kingdom”.

But Sinn Fein said the plans were a “non-starter” and accused their former power-sharing partners of “working against the interests of the people” of Northern Ireland.

And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the deal was “not acceptable” and “worse” than Theresa May’s agreement, as it “undermined” the Good Friday Agreement that secured peace in Northern Ireland.