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A brief summary of the debate about alternative arrangements to a hard Irish border after Brexit, organised by Open Europe in Brussels on 11 July.
12 July 2019
On 11 July, Open Europe and Prosperity UK hosted the Brussels launch of the Interim Report of Prosperity UK’s Alternative Arrangements Commission (AAC), a cross-party group committed to finding solutions to protect and uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, to avoid a “hard border” on the island of Ireland, as well as to respect legitimate Irish and EU concerns and the UK’s plans to have a post-Brexit independent trade and regulatory policy. The final version of the report is due to be released on 18 July.
The discussion was moderated by Pieter Cleppe, Head of Open Europe’s Brussels office.
Introducing the event, UK MP Greg Hands said that the AAC’s recommendations will take two to three years to implement but they can be agreed before the Brexit date on 31 October. He also stressed that only existing technology was being proposed to deal with the challenge.
Trade lawyer Shanker Singham explained that the AAC’s solution does not mean that nothing will change on the island of Ireland, but that it would ensure any changes do not result in checks at the border itself or damage the Good Friday Agreement. He also said that elements of the solution can only be applied in case of a No Deal Brexit.
Tony Smith, the former Director General of the UK Border Force, stressed that the UK and Ireland have had a kind of “mini-Schengen” area for about 100 years, which was only suspended during the troubles in Northern Ireland. He mentioned that this was the reason many fear that not only goods but also people would be checked at the border after Brexit, which he dismissed as out of the question.
Patrick Smyth, the Europe Editor of the Irish Times, provided an Irish perspective, stressing that from the EU’s point of view, only the backstop can solve the border issue and “Alternative Arrangements” are part of the mitigation of border issues rather than a solution in themselves. He said, “For domestic political reasons, the Irish government has promoted the implausible line that remote checks are possible” in case of a No Deal Brexit. He also called it “fanciful” that “in case of a common Ireland-UK SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] region, with a common rulebook and enforcement procedures… Ireland would break away should the UK decide to import things like chlorinated chicken or [genetically modified] products.” He described this as “trying to put the onus on Ireland for the responsibility of any future hard border controls.”
Watch the event again here: Part 1 and Part 2. Listen to the audio recording of the event here.
An Executive Summary of the AAC’s report can be found here.