Business bodies pour cold water on backstop alternatives

The Alternative Arrangements Commission (AAC) looked at options to avoid a backstop for the border. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

A HOST of business bodies have rejected proposals to replace the controversial backstop.

Groups representing the haulage, manufacturing and retailing sectors have criticised the technical and administrative solutions put forward by the Alternative Arrangements Commission (AAC), which are aimed at avoiding a hard border in Ireland in the event of no post-Brexit trade deal.

Chaired by MPs Greg Hands and Nicky Morgan, the AAC has sought suggestions from businesses for future operation of cross-border trade that would avoid the need for a backstop aligning the UK to EU trade rules.

Its members include historian Lord Paul Bew and economist Graham Gudgin.

The commission was set up by Prosperity UK, an organisation that describes itself as an independent platform bringing together business, academics and policy makers to look constructively at the UK's future outside the EU

Its alternative proposals include sanitary tests on foods and livestock at points away from the border; establishing special economic zones to avoid disruption to cross-border communities; and creating a trusted trader programme that would reduce the need for customs inspections.

However, Freight Transport Association (FTA), NI Retail Consortium (NIRC), Manufacturing NI and the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce have all rejected the plan.

Concerns ranged from the increased costs incurred complying with the proposed arrangements to their potential for increased smuggling.

Manufacturing NI said the "costs and complexities suggested would be hugely damaging and resulting in significant economic harm", while NIRC said the solutions put forward would make northern businesses "less competitive and in some cases unviable".

The FTA described the proposed sanitary and phytosanitary zone for Britain and Ireland as "simply unrealistic" and the special economic zones on the border as creating "new borders, barriers to trade and new formalities".

"These are not the solution to the predicament of Brexit and the border in Ireland and merely waste valuable time," the FTA concluded.

The British Irish Chamber said: "While the report most certainly does not rely on the unicorns of untested technology and blue sky ideas, it still asks a lot of EU negotiators for an outcome that would ultimately be worse for businesses on the island of Ireland.

"The British Irish Chamber's view of these proposals, no matter how genuine the initiative, is that they lack credibility in the reality of how all-island trade actually works."

The AAC will launch its final report in London on July 18.

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