UK proposes customs checks on either side of Irish border in bid to break Brexit deadlock
Plan intended to avoid checks on the border but proposal described as non-starter by Irish foreign minister
The UK government has suggested placing customs checks away from the Irish border as a way of breaking the Brexit deadlock, it has emerged.
Under the plan, a string of customs posts would be constructed on either side of the border, up to 10 miles from the existing frontier.
The proposals are expected to be contained in the formal proposals Boris Johnson will present to Brussels within days.
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But they have already been dismissed by Ireland, while Labour said they were "utterly unworkable".
The prime minister will hand his blueprint for an agreement to the EU once the Conservative Party conference wraps up in Manchester and ahead of a crucial Brussels summit on 17 and 18 October.
Johnson has repeatedly said that the Irish backstop – which is designed to guarantee no return to a hard border – must be replaced in order for a deal to be struck.
The UK's border proposal was revealed by RTÉ News, which said it would involve the construction of "customs clearance sites" on both sides of the Irish border.
In response, Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney tweeted: "Non-Paper Non-Starter. Time the EU had a serious proposal from the UK Govt if a Brexit deal is to be achievable in October. NI and IRE deserves better!"
Non-Paper = Non-Starter. Time the EU had a serious proposal from the UK Govt if a #Brexit deal is to be achievable in October. NI and IRE deserves better!— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) September 30, 2019
An Irish government spokesperson meanwhile said: "The EU task force has indicated that any non-papers it has received from the UK to date fall well short of the agreed aims and objectives of the backstop.
"The UK's non-papers were given to the task force on the strict understanding they would not be shared with anyone. The taskforce has said it has received no credible proposals from the British.
"Ireland's priorities are protecting the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding a hard border and protecting the all island economy, and protecting the EU single market and its benefits for Irish businesses and consumers.
"We have yet to see any credible alternatives to the backstop."
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "They would place an enormous administrative burden on businesses and rely on technology that does not yet exist.
"Crucially, if true, they represent a rowing back on the commitments made to the people of Northern Ireland two years ago that there would be no return to a hard border or related checks or controls.
"If accurate, these proposals represent yet another failure of the government's negotiating strategy."
But a Downing Street spokesman said: "Nothing we are proposing involves checks or controls at the border.
"That is an absolute commitment."
And Johnson – who has vowed to leave the EU "do or die" by 31 October – on Monday insisted a deal could still be reached.
Speaking on a visit to a cash-and-carry business in Manchester, he said: "I'm cautiously optimistic. We have made some pretty big moves, we are waiting to see whether our European friends will help us and whether we can find the right landing zone."
Meanwhile, The Times reports that the prime minister will ask the EU to rule out allowing any further extension to Article 50 when he puts forward his proposal for an agreement, in a bid to present MPs with the choice of either backing his agreement or letting the UK leave the bloc without a deal.
He is said to have privately made clear that any deal should include a commitment from EU nations not to allow another Brexit delay, in a move aimed at undermining the Benn Act, which requires him to seek an extension if he cannot strike an agreement.
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