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UK's buffer zone plan for Northern Ireland border 'something out of Alice in Wonderland'

Sinn Féin, meanwhile, said the proposal has highlighted “the lack of knowledge” of border areas and the concerns they face.

The buffer zone would allow for trade between local traders like dairy farmers.
The buffer zone would allow for trade between local traders like dairy farmers.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 6.15pm

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT is reportedly considering putting forward a proposal for a 16km-wide trade buffer zone along the border in Northern Ireland.

It doesn’t, however, have the backing of the DUP which is helping to prop up Theresa May’s minority government in Westminster.

The UK’s Sun newspaper reports Brexit Secretary David Davis is currently working on a new plan to break the deadlock in talks. The buffer zone, which would allow for trade between local traders like dairy farmers, is among these proposals.

His plan also reportedly proposes operating a regime of both European and British regulations so the North could trade freely with both, without the need for checkpoints.

In a statement this evening, DUP MP Sammy Wilson called the proposals “contradictory”.

He said: “These convoluted arrangements only arise because of the [UK] government’s failure to make it clear to the EU that regardless of Barnier and EU negotiators’ attempts to keep us in the Customs Union and the Single Market, we are leaving.

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 and if they want to avoid the consequences then they need to stop dismissing the perfectly feasible ideas that were put forward in August of last year.

Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins had earlier told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that he didn’t believe the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) “would go for this”.

He questioned how workable the buffer zone would be and said he believes it is an attempt by the British government to “be seen to be bringing forward some kind of proposal” before the June deadline.

“I simply don’t think it’ll work,” he said.

Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson also described the proposal as an attempt to hide a hard border in a buffer zone. She said they do not take into account the reality of life along the border, particularly in areas such as Derry, Strabane and Newry which are essentially cross-border.

Once again this shows the lack of knowledge of border areas and the concerns they face – David Davis obviously didn’t learn much on his flying visits. The creation of a buffer zone would merely move the problem away from the border and hide a hard border in a buffer zone.

“The best way to protect trade, agriculture and the rights of people living in the north, as well as ensuring full protection for the Good Friday Agreement is for the north to remain in the customs union and single market and to have special status within the EU,” she said.

Across the Irish Sea, opposition politicians in the House of Commons have been scathing of the plan.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said the Conservative plans are sounding like “something out of Alice in Wonderland” while Labour’s Chris Leslie called the plans “both dangerous and impractical”.

With reporting from Sean Murray

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