Hopes of a Brexit deal faded significantly on Tuesday when in a phone call to the Prime Minister, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said an agreement was “overwhelmingly unlikely”, a Downing Street source claimed. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar also admitted last night it would be “very difficult” to secure a Brexit deal by next week. Raoul Ruparel, who was directly involved in Brexit negotiations for three years, warned two challenges remain with the UK’s plan.
Writing for Politico, he said: “In seeking to find a solution to this problem it is worthwhile returning to the approach taken in the Good Friday Agreement, which provides for a check on consent if at any point in the future it looks as though both communities no longer support the status quo.
“Importantly, it ensures no single party in Northern Ireland has a veto.
“We can apply this principle again here. Rather than being a continuous process of “opting-in,” there should be a consent mechanism which triggers an “opt-out” of the arrangements for Northern Ireland if, at some point in the future, they no longer enjoy support across the nation.
“This would shift the default from being a no deal scenario. It would provide for a trigger point to begin a new negotiation to find a way to address the unique circumstances regarding the border on the island of Ireland at some point in the future and would function as an exit mechanism, not holding Northern Ireland to EU standards indefinitely.”
The other major challenge, he warned, was finding a way around a number of customs issues that will require significant compromises from the UK and European Union.
Mr Johnson’s latest proposals outlined how customs checks would take place away from the border on the island of Ireland, but Mr Ruparel warned this triggers four major problems.
First it would require “significant exemptions” from EU law on customs procedures, something the Brussels has previously rejected.
Second, this could be worsened by a much bigger exemption for small and medium sized businesses from customs processes, and third, the proposal would create major administrative burdens and costs for businesses on both sides.
But Mr Ruparel said: “Both sides should agree a set of objective criteria on which any “alternative arrangements” for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland will be judged and make a legal commitment that their primary aim will be to secure such arrangements by the end of the transition period.
“In the unlikely event that such arrangements cannot be put in place in time, both sides should agree that Northern Ireland will, as a fall back, remain in both the UK’s and the EU’s customs territory.
“This would need to be recognised in the legal text now, and would allow flexibility around when and where customs documentation and any physical checks need to take place.
“The obvious place would be at entry points onto the island of Ireland such as ports and airports. This alone though would not be acceptable so needs to be supplemented by arrangements to minimise any checks on products moving from Great Britain for sale in Northern Ireland.”
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The first approach would be to adopt a “channels”-type approach, involving ports in Northern Ireland being effectively considered as an entry point to the EU on goods for which the UK has agreed to align standards with the bloc.
This would see goods shipped to Northern Ireland from Britain treated as if they were entering the EU at that point, removing the need for further checks when they cross into the Republic.
Mr Ruparel argued the second approach would see all all customs procedures being completed immediately, but enabling businesses selling products in Northern Ireland to reclaim and difference in UK and EU tariffs.
He warned this would mean the UK accepting it is not possible to agree legally operative arrangements for customs before October 19, and said this would require the UK to agree Northern Ireland could remain in both its own and the EU’s customs territory.
He argued: “Under this plan, neither the UK as a whole, nor Northern Ireland, would risk being stuck in the backstop indefinitely.
The UK would be free from the first day after the transition period to agree new free-trade agreements with countries around the world.
Mr Ruparel added: “I recognise this approach will be particularly difficult for the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party to agree to, but because Northern Ireland’s institutions will ultimately have the right to decide whether these particular arrangements are right for the country as a whole, this plan is consistent with the negotiating aims agreed in December 2017 and with the Good Friday Agreement.
“Furthermore, it delivers the best of both worlds for Northern Ireland businesses, something sorely lacking in the current proposals, given it has good access to both the UK and EU markets.
Mr Ruparel said the EU would have to accept the legal text would not be ready soon and would have to accept there will need to be further negotiation on how to address the circumstances around the Irish border.
Brussels has so far rejected this, but Mr Ruparel warned the bloc would be taking a huge gamble in making the same move again.
He concluded: “The EU can either accept that this issue may have to be revisited at some undefined point in the future or it can gamble on a UK election that makes a no-deal Brexit much more likely.
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