Northern Ireland could be granted joint UK and EU status so that it can trade freely with both after Brexit.
Britain is considering a proposal that would give Northern Ireland joint UK and EU status. The UK would also propose a 10-mile wide trade buffer zone along the border for local traders like dairy farmers to eliminate the need for border checkpoints with Ireland.
A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the plan is one of several ideas being discussed to break the deadlock in negotiations with the EU over the Irish border issue and may not actually be proposed to the EU.
Both the UK and the EU wish to keep a free flow of people and goods over the Irish border without returning to checkpoints, symbols of the decades of violence in the region which was largely ended by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, Reuters reports.
A lawmaker from the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party dismissed the idea and said it had not been raised with the party.
“These convoluted arrangements only arise because of the government’s failure to make it clear to the EU that regardless of EU negotiators’ attempts to keep us in the Customs Union and the Single Market, we are leaving,” said Democratic Unionist Party MP Sammy Wilson in a statement.
“Instead of moving from one set of half-cooked ideas to the other, it is now time for the government to put down its foot and make it clear to EU negotiators that the Prime Minister stands by her commitment that no deal is better than a bad deal.”
Martina Anderson, a member of the European Parliament for Sinn Fein said the proposal would not solve the border issues.
“Once again this shows the lack of knowledge of border areas and the concerns they face,” Anderson said. “The creation of a buffer zone would merely move the problem away from the border and hide a hard border in a buffer zone.”
Another option being considered is a “customs partnership,” in which the UK would cooperate with the EU to collect tariffs on its behalf with no requirement of declarations of goods crossing the border.
In a statement, a Department for Exiting the EU spokesperson said: "We have set out two viable future customs arrangements with the EU and work is ongoing to refine these."
"Both of these would deliver on our commitments to ensure UK-EU trade is as frictionless as possible, avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, preserve the integrity of the UK's internal market and enable us to establish an independent international trade policy."
A Downing Street spokesman said Prime Minister Theresa May was "absolutely clear that we cannot and will not accept a customs border down the Irish Sea, and that we will preserve the integrity of the UK's common market.”
"Work is ongoing on customs plans that will achieve this, as well as ensuring we can strike trade deals around the world, that trade remains as frictionless as possible, and that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."