A UK commitment to indemnify the EU against single market infractions is among a set of alternative proposals to replace the Irish border backstop.
The plan, tabled by Northern Ireland’s Ulster Unionist Party, would also see the creation of a new offence in British law for knowingly transporting non-compliant goods to the EU.
The party has also proposed the establishment of a new cross-border body, similar to those already created by the Good Friday Agreement, to monitor and regulate trade across the frontier.
The UUP said it was putting forward the ideas in good faith, in a bid to break the impasse over the backstop.
Peer and former party leader Lord Empey, who took the lead in developing the proposals, said they represented an “Irish solution to an Irish problem”.
“What we are trying to do is to stimulate a debate,” he told the PA news agency.
“We need a solution. The roaring and shouting that has accompanied Boris Johnson’s activities in the last period doesn’t remove the need for a deal and it doesn’t remove the need for a solution to the problem.”
Lord Empey said his party recognised the right of the Irish Republic, and wider EU, to protect the integrity of the single market.
Rather than doing that through the backstop – which would see Northern Ireland remain aligned to EU regulations on goods – the UUP is suggesting that the UK offers securities to Europe that would assure the bloc it is serious about preventing infractions.
This would include the creation of an offence where those guilty of using UK territory to export non-compliant goods to the EU would be liable for prosecution.
It would also see the UK indemnify the EU against any such infractions, with the British assuming the legal responsibility for the damage.
“What we have been told by Dublin and Brussels is that they need an insurance policy to protect their single market – we accept that,” said Lord Empey
“So what we are saying is the United Kingdom would make it an offence for its territory to be used to subvert the single market by sending goods through the UK to the single market knowing they were not compliant with single market rules, so people could be prosecuted as a result of that.”
He added: “They keep talking about an insurance policy. So why doesn’t the UK plc indemnify the Republic and the European Union against the risk of the market being contaminated by goods coming in that aren’t up to standard?”
The UUP highlighted the vast majority of trade between the UK and Irish Republic is done across the Irish Sea, between Dublin and Holyhead.
And for goods that cross the 310 mile land border, the party believes the creation of a north south body to regulate and monitor these movements could negate the need for check points and infrastructure.
The UUP, which was one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast agreement, suggests that UK/Irish treaty is extended to create the new organisation, which would then sit alongside the six cross-border bodies already established under the peace deal.
Its functions would include educating and advising companies of any divergence between the UK and EU markets and to inspect depots and other business premises to ensure compliance.
The party believes officials in this new all-Ireland body could also fulfil the role that might otherwise be performed by UK and Irish customs officers.
“This is an Irish solution to an Irish problem,” said Lord Empey.
“What we are trying to do is say, we have an agreement – the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement – why don’t we use that structure to develop things, so that we have a workable and agreed solution to the border issues.”
He urged politicians to consider the proposals.
“People need to sit down, they need to negotiate and talk and find solutions and the Ulster Unionist Party is attempting to put this into the mix, to stimulate debate and get people focused on getting the settlement, rather than shouting at each other, which is what they are doing now,” he said.