By Martina Bet
15 October 2019
The Irish border issue has been at the heart of the Brexit impasse for the past two years and, with less than 15 days until Britain’s scheduled departure date of October 31, a solution is still yet to be found. However, The Constitution Reform Group (CRG), an all-party project, is backing a bill that could go a long way to addressing the issue.
The latest plan from Mr Johnson’s Government is for a customs border in the Irish Sea – but only for goods travelling from Britain via Northern Ireland and on to the rest of the EU, including the Republic of Ireland.Last week, hopes of a Brexit breakthrough surged after Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson agreed there is a “pathway to a possible Brexit deal”. However, four days later and after a weekend of Brexit talks, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, suggested that both sides are still faced by the same Brexit conundrum. Britain needs to leave the EU customs union and single market, while maintaining an open border with Ireland to protect peace on the island.
Northern Ireland would be part of the UK’s customs territory, but there would be a channel system at the region’s two main ports and airports: a green channel for goods from Great Britain; and a red channel for goods destined beyond the region that would undergo checks and controls.
EU leaders, though, have not responded with enthusiasm to the new proposals, as they regard the dual customs plan as untested and a threat to the integrity of the single market.
As the prospect of striking a deal before October 31 looks more unlikely, the Constitution Reform Group (CRG), an all-party project convened by former leader of the House of Lords, Lord Salisbury, might have the solution the EU and Britain both desperately need.
The CRG is currently advocating for the Act of Union Bill – a ready-made Bill which includes proposals that could be used to resolve this pressing issue, by proposing a federal structure for the continuation of the Union, establishing the principle of self-determination among all four parts.
Talking exclusively with Express.co.uk, Lord Salisbury said: “What this Bill does, it provides that all four parts of the Kingdom, and England, agree with the centre what powers are going to be exercised by the centre over Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“They are not necessarily going to be the same powers, but that should be by agreement.
“And in this Bill, this agreement would be laid out and would see the surrender of all the sovereignty from the centre to all the constituents parts of the Kingdom.
“Simultaneously in the same piece of legislation, the powers which had been previously agreed by the four parts with the centre would be reconfirmed by the centre.
“That deals with consent, particularly if you think it can only become law once the four constituents parts have approved by referendum the provision of the Bill.
“So there is a sort of double lock on that.”
Member of the steering committee of the CRG Daniel Greenberg, a lawyer who specialises in legislation and the legislative process, explained in a recent report for Brexit Central how a federal structure for the UK could help not only the issue with the border in Northern Ireland but also prevent the break of the Union.
He wrote: “The different voting patterns in the Brexit referendum in different parts of the United Kingdom have suggested that different parts may have different aspirations for membership of, or at least for any future relationship with the European Union.
“As presently constituted, there is little or no room for individual arrangements between parts of the United Kingdom and the European Union.
“Although the special arrangements for Gibraltar have functioned reasonably effectively for the most part, that model is unlikely to satisfy all parts of the United Kingdom in a post-Brexit world, and constitutional flexibility within the United Kingdom is likely to be necessary in order to give negotiating flexibility with the European Union, and, indeed for the purposes of other international relationships.”
Mr Greenberg argued that a federal structure of this kind would have a number of possible advantages in terms of flexibility, some of which relate to Brexit and some of which are of more general application.
He explained: “Most importantly in relation to Brexit, the draft Act of Union would assert the existence of a number of separate entities within the United Kingdom and would make it easier for them in a number of ways both to be perceived as capable of independent decision-making in certain areas and to operate the mechanics of distinct relationships with the European Union or with other international groupings.”
A key issue with the backstop is the DUP’s resistance to any kind of deal that would leave Northern Ireland with a different post-Brexit arrangement than the rest of the UK.
However, Mr Greenberg’s analysis suggests that this issue could be addressed by the CRG’s proposals as the constitutional settlement outlined by the Bill would enshrine and protect the future of the Union while also allowing room for differences in approach to the EU from the four constituent parts.
The Act of Union Bill is currently awaiting its second reading.
In the meantime, the cross-party group is developing and expanding the clauses within the Bill and welcoming feedback from those interested in contributing.
The Bill would only come into force if approved by a referendum with a majority of votes cast in the UK as a whole at 65 percent and on a majority in each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
You can read the article on the Daily Express website here.