Pro-Brexit Tories admit 'nothing new' in their proposals to solve Irish border controversy

David Davis acknowledges ideas are return to ‘max fac’ plan dumped by the prime minister – after a warning it would cost businesses £20bn a year

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 12 September 2018 15:12 BST
Former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson admits there's 'nothing new' in Pro-Brexit group's proposals to solve Irish border controversy

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Claims by pro-Brexit Tories to have found a solution to the Irish border controversy were undermined when they admitted there was “nothing new” in their proposals.

The European Research Group (ERG) piled pressure on Theresa May to ditch her Chequers plan, insisting new technology and inspections far from the frontier could meet EU demands to avoid a return to border posts.

Significantly, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – which is propping up the prime minister in power – hailed the “sensible practical measures”.

But David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, acknowledged the ideas were a return to the “max fac” plan dumped by the prime minister, after a warning it would cost businesses up to £20bn a year.

He also argued it was part of a “trend” towards “streamlined” crossings across the world, including between the US and Canada – even though that border has guards carrying guns.

“There’s nothing new in here, it’s actually quite boring,” admitted Owen Paterson, a former Northern Ireland secretary.

The 19-page – hastily-stapled together – paper proposed initial regulatory alignment between the UK and the EU, with a “common biosecurity zone” to allow the smooth movement of agricultural goods.

Larger companies would use “trusted trader” schemes to clear their goods for export and import, with standards checks “at the point of sale”, rather than the border.

The plan would clear the way for a “Canada-style” trade agreement, the group claimed – ditching the Chequers proposals to adopt a “common rule book” with the EU after Brexit.

But the event was overshadowed by the revelation that up to 50 Tory MPs, at a weekly meeting of the ERG, openly discussed how to topple the prime minister.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG’s chairman, disowned the plotters, insisting they had been reflecting “private views” and not the policy of the ERG.

“I have long said, and repeated again and again, that the policy needs to be changed but I am supporting the person,” he said.

“Theresa May has enormous virtues, she is a fantastically dutiful prime minister and she has my support. I just want her to change one item of policy.”

Mr Davis added: “I have made very plain from when I resigned and thereafter that I think we have got a very good prime minister and, like Jacob, I disagree with her on one issue – this issue.

“She should stay in place because we need stability and we need decent government as the backdrop to what we are doing in the coming six months.”

Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s deputy leader, said the paper “accurately reflects the fact that the border issue is no impediment to the negotiation by the UK of a comprehensive trade deal with the EU”.

Owen Smith, Labour’s former Northern Ireland secretary and a supporter of the anti-Brexit Best or Britain campaign, said the DUP’s support had put Ms May’s position in “peril”.

“The new Brexiteer plan for the Irish border simply moves it and its new infrastructure 20 miles north – so that new ‘intelligence-led’ checks can be carried out,” he said.

“What should worry everyone is that the DUP have rushed out with full-throated support for it. For a prime minister who relies on DUP support to survive, this puts her government in potential peril.”

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