Suggestion of border customs checks deeply alarming
With four weeks to go until the Brexit deadline, the British government under Boris Johnson is finally getting down to the fundamentals of the key sticking point which is resolving the Irish border conundrum.
The prime minister is undoubtedly finding out, as Theresa May did before him, that there are no easy solutions to this issue. That if Britain leaves the customs union and single market, then how can checks be avoided at the only land border between the UK and the EU?
After two years of tortuous negotiations, Mrs May and the EU agreed the backstop, which has been often described as an insurance policy to ensure there is no return to a hard border.
Mr Johnson has vowed to get rid of the backstop but has struggled to come up with a viable alternative. However, the clock is ticking and his government is under pressure to disclose its proposals.
It is anticipated that we may hear some details this week, possibly later today, and observers will be watching closely to see if there are plans for anything resembling customs posts near the border, as reported by RTE on Monday.
The broadcaster revealed the suggestion was contained in a UK 'non paper' sent to the EU during technical discussions.
Not surprisingly, the idea of 'customs clearance sites' was roundly rejected by political representatives on both sides of the border, with Tanaiste Simon Coveney describing it as a 'non-starter'.
Mr Johnson said these were preliminary ideas that had been floated rather than the formal proposals to be tabled this week, but the fact that any sort of border infrastructure plan was put forward at this stage of the process, after all that has been said about this difficult and sensitive issue, is deeply alarming.
It is also significant that after downplaying this report, the prime minister said it was a 'reality' that some checks would be needed to create a 'single customs territory' for the UK once it leaves the EU.
As we await the British government's proposals for resolving the border issue, this statement will cause a considerable sense of unease.
The concern will be that his planned replacement for the backstop is completely unworkable and therefore unacceptable to the EU.
That would increase the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit, which may be his intention.