The Withdrawal Agreement is not dead!

A team of experts looking at finding a solution to the question of the Irish backstop have been joined by a second group, this time of businesses and trade union representatives.  The two teams will work together and with a selection of Parliamentarians from across both Houses to get the WA through Parliament.

The new groups will not be constituted until the ‘Meaningful Vote’ has been passed in Parliament, although they will meet in advance of that vote. The three groups will help inform the UK’s negotiations with the EU on developing alternative arrangements to the Northern Ireland backstop, set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, with the aim of replacing it by December 2020 so that it is never needed.

Members of the second group, known as the Business and Trade Union Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group, have been chosen to ensure their experience and on-the-ground knowledge informs developments and includes cross-sector representatives from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.  It will ensure the views of businesses and their employees are represented in this process.

The first team, known as the Technical Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group, was launched last week and comprises Steve Elliott, Michael Bell, Mike Thompson, Dominique Willems, Allie Renison, Hans Maessen, Declan Billington, Ruth Corkin, Pablo Muñiz, Dr David Smith, Tim Mairs (representing PSNI), Peter MacSwiney, Dr Katy Hayward, Dr Lorand Bartels, Dr Graham Gudgin.

Specifically, the group will have a remit to support the government on exploring approaches to reduce the risk associated with the movement of goods and for simplifying processes for businesses trading in goods. The government will also seek the input and views of the business advisory group and parliamentary engagement group to the proposals that are brought forward and will ensure they have the opportunity to contribute their views on how proposals might be developed.

In the first instance, the technical advisory group will consider work drawing on, but not limited to, facilitation and simplifications for businesses, advanced use of data and IT systems, transit, including looking at global precedents for transit schemes, cutting-edge technologies radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, app platforms, single windows, and machine learning and automatic intelligence.  Co-chaired by Brexit Secretary, Steve Barclay, and Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jesse Norman the first meeting of the technical group was due to take place yesterday.

The new Business and Trade Union Alternative Arrangements Advisory Group will consider processes associated with the movement of goods across borders and options for simplifying them, such as trusted trader programmes and advanced use of data and IT systems.

The third group will consist of a parliamentary engagement group and will allow the government to consult with Members of Parliament from across both Houses. The government will discuss with parliamentarians how best to constitute this group. This will not affect the government’s ongoing engagement with the Exiting the EU Select Committee, the Treasury Select Committee and the EU Select Committee.

Robin Walker, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, said: “The development of alternative arrangements to replace the backstop has been recognised as a priority by both the UK Government and the EU Commission. Accordingly, we have a highly-informed group of experts in trade and customs focused on developing and testing workable solutions.

“But it is vital that any possible alternatives to the backstop are informed by the views of those on the ground, whose goods cross the border every single day. So I am delighted to chair this important group, which will ensure that the voices of business and trade union representatives are heard.”

Members of the business and trade union group have been chosen based on their comprehensive backgrounds in cross-border supply chains. The group includes large companies who can represent the views of themselves and their suppliers, as well as smaller companies who rely on cross-border “just in time” supply chains.

The UK and EU have a shared desire to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements to ensure there is no hard border — and both sides have committed to prioritising the development of these in the next phase of talks.

The government will look to engage with these groups on developing the UK’s understanding of alternative arrangements to inform negotiations with the EU and ensure that the UK’s input is informed by a broad and inclusive range of voices domestically.

Over the longer-term, the government will also consider how best these groups can contribute to its goal of ensuring that the UK is at the cutting edge of global customs policy, facilitating the greatest possible trade between the UK and the rest of the world. The government will make available £20m of funding, to support the development, testing, or piloting of ideas that emerge from these groups where the government believes it would be helpful.

All three groups will have a particular focus on how any arrangements take into account the UK’s commitments to protect respective legal orders and markets and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. They will also take into account how arrangements can apply more broadly beyond the specific focus on how they would operate in the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, to include how they could also help facilitate trade between the UK and EU.

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