High-tech solution raises chances of a deal.
The European Union is secretly preparing to accept a frictionless Irish border after Brexit in a move that raises the prospect of Theresa May striking a deal by the end of the year.
In a concession to British concerns, EU negotiators want to use technological solutions to minimise customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
Under the EU plan, goods could be tracked using barcodes on shipping containers under “trusted-trader” schemes administered by registered companies. This would remove the need for new border infrastructure.
A sticking point in the talks to date has been how to avoid the return of a “hard” border in Northern Ireland with new checks or controls amid fears that it could lead to renewed conflict.
The government has refused to accept the EU’s initial proposal that there would, in effect, have to be a border in the Irish Sea, with checks on goods before they left mainland Britain.
The Brussels plan, called the “backstop”, caused outrage among Conservatives and their parliamentary allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, by creating a different constitutional and territorial status for Northern Ireland.
In a development that could help the prime minister to sell her Brexit plans to a sceptical party, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is working on a new “protocol” text outlining a plan to use technology to minimise checks. The proposals are to be circulated to European governments after the Conservative Party conference on October 3.
It is hoped that the draft will help Mrs May to survive long enough to reach an agreement with Brussels this winter. The new protocol will go far further than before in accepting the argument of the British government and many Brexiteers that technology can solve the riddle of how to avoid checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic.