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  1. ITV Report

UK proposes customs centres on both sides of Irish border in bid to replace backstop, reports suggest

The proposals are reported to be to replace the Brexit backstop. Credit: PA

The UK has proposed the creation of a string of customs posts along both sides of the Irish border as part of its effort to replace the Brexit backstop, it has been reported.

Irish broadcaster RTÉ News said it had seen extracts of plans for "customs clearance centres" which would be located between five and 10 miles back from the border, in proposals sent from the UK Government to the European Union.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised an arrangement that avoids infrastructure at the Irish border and said he will not agree to a deal that contains the controversial backstop element.

The backstop would see Northern Ireland remain in a single marked and customs union with the EU, effectively creating a border between it and the rest of the UK, if no-deal was agreed on, in a bid to stop checks and controls having to take place at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Mr Johnson has also pledged that the UK will leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal, despite MPs voting through the Benn Bill which aims to block an exit from the bloc with no arrangement in place.

RTÉ also reported the documents contained a proposal that the goods moving from a so-called "customs clearance site" on the northern side of the border to a similar site on the southern side would be monitored in real time using GPS via mobile phone data, or tracking devices placed on trucks or vans.

Boris Johnson has insisted a Brexit deal cannot include a backstop. Credit: PA

It continued that traders would have a choice of either a straightforward customs declaration which would have to be lodged and cleared on either side of the border, or the so-called "transit" system.

The broadcaster claimed the UK proposals have been discussed in talks with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, but had not been disclosed to other member states.

It continued there could be up to 10 "customs clearance centres" on either side of the border, under the proposals.

Adding that larger companies could apply for Authorised Economic Operator status, which would minimise the level of customs checks, but these would likely be too expensive for small and medium businesses.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said he believes Mr Johnson will offer a new Brexit deal to the EU on either Wednesday or Thursday "which means presumably in his conference speech and then in a follow-up statement to the Commons on Thursday.

"And if he is really and truly seeking a breakthrough, he will have to say something new and important about customs arrangements on the island of Ireland.

Irish opposition parties have criticised the reports.

Fianna Fail Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers tweeted: "This is effectively a border with a buffer zone and is clearly not a satisfactory alternative to the backstop With 30 days now to go until Brexit we need to see sensible workable solutions that ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland.

"What about regulations on goods?"

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the reported proposals - which suggest parallel "customs clearance sites" - fail to meet the UK Government's commitments under the December 2017 joint report and are "unacceptable".

"The content of these proposals fails to meet the British Government's obligations under the December 2017 joint report to avoid physical infrastructure, checks and controls at the border.

"It doesn't matter if it's a mile, five miles or 10 miles away, the presence of physical checks will create economic and security challenges that are unacceptable."