Northern Ireland could be given joint EU and UK status and a “buffer zone” on its border with Ireland, under new plans being drawn up by David Davis, according to reports.
There was no immediate response from the Department for Exiting the EU to a report in the Sun suggesting the Brexit secretary was to put forward a radical solution to the thorny issue of future customs arrangements.
Theresa May’s Brexit subcommittee is split down the middle between the prime minister’s preferred “customs partnership”, under which the UK would gather tariffs on behalf of the EU, and the “maximum facilitation” solution, using technology to avoid the need for border checks.
With pressure mounting to agree on a position before a summit of EU leaders on 28 June, May set up two working groups to find amendments to the schemes which could unite her feuding ministers.
According to the Sun, Davis – who heads the “max fac” group – was ready to drop his support for technological solutions, after police said systems, such as number plate recognition cameras, could become a target for sectarian attack.
Instead, he was reportedly drawing up a plan based on the “double-hatted” model in place in Liechtenstein, which would allow Northern Ireland to operate under both UK and EU regulations at the same time.
A 10-mile wide “special economic zone” would be created along the 310-mile border, within which traders could operate under the republic’s trade rules.
An unnamed Whitehall source told the paper: “Max fac 2 is tremendously complicated, but it’s at least something the cabinet can unite around.”
The source acknowledged it would be a challenge to secure backing for the plan from the Democratic Unionist party, which props up May’s government at Westminster and has made clear that it does not want Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.