Is this the magic bullet to sort the problems of Brexit and the border?

 

New version:  The Times is reporting that agreement is close on “regulatory convergence” on the island of Ireland even if there is a divergence between the UK and the rest of the EU after Brexit.

The agreement would involve the devolution of a package of measures to the Assembly to help maintain common standards and regulations for agribusiness and electricity, gas and water which are substantially integrated on the island.
Pressure to restore the Executive would therefore increase.
A detailed proposal concentrating on regulatory convergence has also been made by the British and Irish Chamber of Commerce.
It goes further than the Times report in describing a vision of a final Brexit outcome based on a customs union between the UK and the EU designed to reconcile British ambitions with EU rules and solve the problem of a hard Irish border.
Hopes are now raised that Dublin will support the start of negotiations on trade after the EU summit on 14 and 15 December.
Under the proposals now being hammered out by officials, there will no doubt be arguments over whether Northern Ireland would acquire special status of some kind after all, even though they appear not to amount to an economic border between NI and GB.
The proposals nevertheless  may prove hard to square with the DUP and could put their pact with the Conservatives- and thus the government’s survival- at risk. On the other hand the DUP might not want to attract the ignominy of trying to block progress towards an agreed Brexit outcome, if they are welcomed  by the negotiators on both sides.
The proposals from the British and Irish Chamber of Commerce  combine British ideas for new customs arrangements with EU rules to chart a new route through what  seemed like an impossible blockage.

They have proposed, in effect, a customs union of the EU and the UK which has at its heart an agreement not to have divergent regulations and standards.

Their paper points out that 80% of all border checks on the island today applying to third countries relate to regulations and standards and are monitored mostly electronically: while only 20% are about conventional trading tariffs.

The Chamber proposes:

  • A customs union compatible with EU rules, eliminating the need for a hard Irish border and other borders between the UK and the EU;
  • An alignment of tariffs;
  • The offer of reciprocal new free trade agreements negotiated by each of them with other countries. The UK would benefit from the EU’s greater clout and the EU would retain open access to the British market.
  • The UK would be allowed some restrictions on free movement.

In Ireland, as well as keeping the border open, the GFA would be reanimated by a new economic agenda and a possible threat to peace on the border would be lifted.

Of course, the plan is not foolproof.

A price of €10 billion a year to run indefinitely which has been suggested outside the plan might prove a sticking point to Brexiters. Such a close relationship stretches each side’s position to its extreme and may end up appealing to neither.

Nevertheless, with one of its aims to keep the border open, the combination of constructive ideas might be enough to transform the atmosphere and reach the judgement that “sufficient progress” has been made to allow trade talks to begin after December’s summit.

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London