Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

18.27 10 Sep 2019


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Phil Hogan, who was today named as the next EU trade commissioner, has said it would be "sensible" to reconsider a Northern Ireland only backstop.

The potential for the measure is back in the spotlight as a potential mechanism to break the Brexit impasse - despite denials from Downing Street that it's being considered.

It would see trade rules on the whole island of Ireland aligned with the EU, with most checks on goods happening at ports and airports.

The idea had been raised in earlier Brexit negotiations, but was dismissed amid some strong opposition from the DUP and others - leading to the current UK-wide backstop.

The Taoiseach raised the prospect of such a proposal re-emerging ahead of his meeting with the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, meanwhile, has insisted: "We need to see a backstop; either-UK wide or Northern Ireland-specific".

A Downing Street spokesperson today said they're "not seeking" a Northern Ireland-specific arrangement.

'Sensible way to approach it'

Phil Hogan was today named as the next EU trade commissioner by incoming Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Speaking on the Hard Shoulder, Mr Hogan said looking again at a Northern Ireland-specific solution would be a "sensible way" to approach the deadlock.

He said: "Already we saw last week that the British side has advocated an 'all Ireland food zone' - which immediately says they're prepared to look at the principle of divergence between Northern Ireland and the remainder of the UK, which is something the DUP objected to as far back as December 2017.

"So if this principle is shifting, it means then we're moving in a direction towards a Northern Ireland only backstop rather than a total UK one."

Mr Hogan observed it would allow the British prime minister to move ahead with other international trade deals and not be bound by the EU's rules.

He stressed: "We're in the early stages of the end game - so if this is going to happen, it has to happen in the next four to five weeks.

"[That would] allow Mr Johnson to put something new before the parliament. If he doesn't succeed in that... then you're going to have a very difficult situation for him in the House of Commons and a possibility of another general election in November."

The prospect of a Northern Ireland only arrangement has already been firmly rejected by the DUP, which had been propping up the British government before it lost its majority last week.

Speaking after a meeting with Boris Johnson today, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "The Prime Minister rejected a Northern Ireland only backstop in a letter to Donald Tusk on 19 August.

"It is undemocratic and unconstitutional and would place a tariff border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That would be unacceptable.

"During today’s meeting, the Prime Minister confirmed his rejection of the Northern Ireland only 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.”

 

Main image: File photo of Phil Hogan (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

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