Could John­son have the an­swer to solve the Brexit dead­lock?

Prime Min­is­ter dis­cusses ‘all-ire­land’ plan in at­tempt to re­move back­stop and sat­isfy the DUP

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Gor­don Rayner

BORIS JOHN­SON is con­sid­er­ing plans for a reg­u­la­tory bor­der in the Ir­ish Sea as he seeks a new Brexit “di­vorce” deal with the EU.

The Prime Min­is­ter wants an al­lire­land zone for checks on most goods cross­ing be­tween the north and south of the is­land as part of a deal that would re­move the need for a North­ern Ir­ish back­stop.

The idea, which does not cover tar­iffs on goods, was dis­cussed with the DUP yes­ter­day dur­ing talks in Down­ing Street, at which Mr John­son also of­fered a “Stor­mont lock” to en­sure North­ern Ire­land would be able to veto any fu­ture changes to the ar­range­ment.

It also emerged yes­ter­day that Mr John­son had or­dered de­tailed fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies on the pos­si­bil­ity of a bridge be­tween Scot­land and North­ern Ire­land, a project he first sug­gested when he was for­eign sec­re­tary.

He has asked the Trea­sury to draw up cost­ings for the 21-mile cross­ing, while the Depart­ment of Trans­port has looked at engi­neer­ing prob­lems, which in­clude un­ex­ploded Sec­ond World War mu­ni­tions in the sea.

Mr John­son is un­der re­newed pres­sure to reach a deal with the EU af­ter Par­lia­ment re­jected for a sec­ond time his plans for an Oc­to­ber elec­tion to win a man­date for a no-deal exit on Oct 31.

Dur­ing an hour-long meet­ing yes­ter­day with Ar­lene Foster, the DUP leader, Mr John­son dis­cussed an all-ire­land zone for live­stock and agri­cul­tural goods, which make up the ma­jor­ity of trade across the bor­der.

The scheme would only ap­ply to health and reg­u­la­tory checks, rather than tar­iffs, but would nev­er­the­less cre­ate a bor­der in the Ir­ish Sea for agri­cul­tural goods pass­ing be­tween North­ern Ire­land and main­land Bri­tain.

The DUP is un­der­stood to have been re­cep­tive to the idea, which would po­ten­tially ex­pand on the cur­rent health checks on live­stock that are made when an­i­mals cross the Ir­ish Sea, but in­sisted there must be no di­ver­gence in tar­iffs be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the main­land.

Mr John­son be­lieves the prob­lem of tar­iffs can be solved by so-called “al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments”, in­clud­ing trusted trader schemes and elec­tronic pre-autho­ri­sa­tion of goods.

He also re­vived the idea of a North­ern Ir­ish veto through a “Stor­mont lock”, though this would mean the As­sem­bly, which has been sus­pended for more than two years be­cause of dis­agree­ments be­tween union­ists and na­tion­al­ists, would have to be re­in­stated dur­ing any Brexit tran­si­tion pe­riod.

Down­ing Street last night strongly de­nied claims by Ire­land’s EU com­mis­sioner, Phil Ho­gan, that Mr John­son was mov­ing to­wards the idea of a North­ern Ire­land-only back­stop, rather than the all-uk back­stop con­tained in the EU With­drawal Agree­ment.

Mr Ho­gan, who was nom­i­nated yes­ter­day to lead the EU’S fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions with Bri­tain over a trade deal, claimed there was “move­ment hap­pen­ing on both sides” over the is­sue of cross-bor­der trade and that Leo Varad­kar, the Taoiseach, who met Mr John­son in Dublin on Mon­day, wanted to “re­visit” the idea of a North­ern Ire­landonly back­stop. Mr Ho­gan told the Ir­ish Times: “Mr John­son has made a pro­posal ... talk­ing about an all-ire­land food zone. That is cer­tainly a clear in­di­ca­tion of di­ver­gence be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the Repub­lic of Ire­land, the EU and the rest of the UK. If we can

build on that we cer­tainly might get closer to one another in terms of a pos­si­ble out­come.”

Mr Ho­gan added that he was hope­ful “the penny is fi­nally drop­ping” in Bri­tain. He said Mr John­son had made clear he would ac­cept “some level of di­ver­gence” with North­ern Ire­land, the “first time this has been spo­ken about by a British Prime Min­is­ter”.

The com­mis­sioner said the two sides “cer­tainly might get closer” to a deal if they could “build on” the cur­rent pro­posal. But No 10 said Mr John­son was not pre­pared to cut North­ern Ire­land adrift by agree­ing an all-ire­land trade zone for all goods.

Speak­ing af­ter her meet­ing with Mr John­son, Ms Foster said: “A sen­si­ble deal be­tween the United King­dom and Eu­ro­pean Union, which re­spects the eco­nomic and con­sti­tu­tional in­tegrity of the United King­dom, is the best way for­ward for ev­ery­one. We were en­cour­aged by the tone and lan­guage in Dublin on Mon­day. Dur­ing to­day’s meet­ing, the Prime Min­is­ter con­firmed his re­jec­tion of the North­ern Ire­landonly back­stop and his com­mit­ment to se­cur­ing a deal which works for the en­tire United King­dom as well as our neigh­bours in the Repub­lic of Ire­land.”

A Down­ing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Min­is­ter is 100 per cent com­mit­ted to get­ting a deal which works for the UK – and all of the UK – and abol­ishes the anti-demo­cratic back­stop.”

Boris John­son at­tended a Year Four his­tory class dur­ing a visit to Pim­lico pri­mary school in Lon­don yes­ter­day. The Prime Min­is­ter also held talks with the DUP in Down­ing Street

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