The DUP is reportedly ‘open’ to a customs and regulatory regime covering food across the entire island of Ireland in exchange for a time limit to the controversial Irish backstop.
A period of between three to six years has been mentioned as an acceptable time limit. If agreed and required, it would mean the backstop could be in force for a few years beyond any implementation period. The DUP says this would be enough time to conclude negotiations on alternative arrangements under a new UK-EU trade deal.
The party propping up Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has been instrumental in influencing debate on the backstop issue.
A report published by the Alternative Arrangements Commission last month said regulation of agri-food was “the most challenging issue”.
The island of Ireland is already a single zone for animal health, meaning all livestock entering Northern Ireland from mainland UK are subject to checks.
The commission, backed by Tory MPs Nicky Morgan and Greg Hands, suggested extending the existing arrangement to cover food standards could resolve many issues.
The DUP has met with prime minister Boris Johnson, but refused to comment on whether it raised the proposal. The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We’re not going to negotiate in public on this.”
The prime minister will meet EU leaders next week.
What is the Irish backstop?
What has come to be known as the infamous ‘backstop’ is officially the Northern Ireland Protocol in the withdrawal agreement agreement reached between the EU and Theresa May’s government.
As the UK leaves the EU, its single market and customs regime, the backstop is essentially an insurance policy aimed at preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Its various measures would come into effect if a trade deal between the UK and the EU was not in place by the end of the implementation period.
These measures include a single customs regime covering the entire UK and the continuation of some EU rules in Northern Ireland. Together, these would eliminate the need for checks at the border between the remaining EU member state of the Republic of Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland.
However, the application of some EU rules in Northern Ireland could mean checks are needed on goods entering from the rest of UK.
The DUP has long insisted that it will not support any proposals that treat Northern Ireland differently to the UK. They say this would create an effective ‘border’ down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the mainland UK.