Conservative Brexiteers have released proposals which they believe could allow the UK to leave the EU’s single market and customs union without the need for a hard border in Ireland.
The European Research Group of Tory backbenchers, which is led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, believe the Government has allowed the border question to become an obstacle to a Canada-style free trade agreement.
In a new paper, they propose the Government should agree on equal UK and EU regulations for the safety of agricultural products and then allow EU inspectors into Northern Ireland to check on their implementation.
Northern Ireland and the Republic would be maintained as a Common Biosecurity Zone after Brexit, allowing the smooth movement of these goods across the border.
The document said: “Since UK and EU standards are identical and will remain identical at the point of departure, determining equivalence after Brexit should be straightforward.”
‘A major error’
For other goods, the ERG said existing customs procedures could continue to be used to avoid the need for checks at the border.
The ERG paper said that Brussels had made “a major error” in listening almost solely to the warnings of Leo Varadkar’s government in Dublin on the possibility that border issues could disrupt the peace process.
This is a contrast to his predecessor Enda Kenny’s approach of being “co-operative and practical”.
The ERG argued that the Withdrawal Agreement proposals on the border are a “clear breach” of the Good Friday Agreement, which requires decisions on the future of the border to remain a matter for the people of Northern Ireland.
The ERG document continued: "The key obstacle in the negotiations is the EU's concern that goods could enter into the Single Market area through the Irish border without being compliant with EU standards or tariffs.”
"The question for the EU is whether this risk to the integrity of the Single Market is so serious that it could block a Free Trade Agreement with the UK."
‘The EU’s objections are political not practical’
And it added: "In the debate over solutions to the Northern Ireland border issue, a proper sense of scale, perspective or proportionality has been lost.
"The EU's objections are political not practical. The Government has failed to set out what can be done to provide for customs compliance without physical checks or infrastructure on the Northern Ireland border."
The ERG said its proposals could be delivered without weakening cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
"There is nothing which would reduce our commitment to the Belfast Agreement, or which might jeopardise peace in Northern Ireland.
"Harnessing the latest developments in international best practice can deliver continued co-operation and prosperity in the best interests of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland."