Brexit negotiator floats all-Ireland agriculture solution to backstop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain’s Brexit negotiator David Frost proposed in Brussels on Friday that common rules for checking animals and animal products be established across the whole island of Ireland as an alternative to the Irish backstop.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to drop the backstop - an insurance policy to keep the border between British-run Northern Ireland and EU state Ireland open under all circumstances after Brexit - from the stalled deal on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

The rest of the EU says the backstop is crucial for peace on the island and, to maintain the seamless border, would keep all of the UK in a customs union with the EU “unless and until” alternative ways to achieve the same aim were found.

Johnson, who has pledged to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a transitional agreement, has been accused within the EU and by political opponents at home of portraying his government as trying to negotiate a new deal while not proposing any new initiatives.

A spokesman for Britain’s representation to the EU said UK negotiators had presented ideas on implementing an all-island regulatory regime for sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues.

“(That) could involve the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest,” the spokesman said after a meeting with a European Commission taskforce.

An all-Ireland SPS regime - designed to prevent the introduction of or spread of pests and diseases - would mean checking live animals and animal products that arrive from Britain at ports on the whole island.

EU diplomats reacted with scepticism.

“There’s talk of a mini backstop, but it can’t be just SPS,” one said. “The key thing is to find something that guarantees no hard border and this wouldn’t do it.”

There would still be a risk that some products coming from Britain would undermine agreed common standards or compete through price dumping, they said.

That means the EU would require checks on the border, which might be a threat to a Northern Ireland peace settlement .

Reporting John Chalmers; editing by John Stonestreet