Jane Morrice: Replace the UK-wide backstop with a Northern Ireland-only frontstart

Jane Morrice, who is a former head of the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland and Women's Coalition MLA
Jane Morrice, who is a former head of the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland and Women's Coalition MLA
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With Northern Ireland on the brink of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit disaster, constructive solutions are urgently required to avert a damaging fall-out which could threaten the economy, citizens rights and our fragile peace process.

Working together, Brussels, London, Dublin and Belfast should listen to the voice of NI civil society calling for no-deal to be prevented and consider options put forward by local stakeholders.

These include an Enhanced Economic Zone with free-port status throughout NI, a Stability and Association Process and Honorary EU Association for Northern Ireland.

These could be weaved together into a package to replace the UK-wide backstop with a NI-only Frontstart triggered the day the UK leaves the EU.

By front-loading the sequencing from back to front, a Frontstart would give NI immediate protection from any no-deal scenario.

It would reduce business uncertainty and political tension and set up a transition process to stabilise and prepare the region for any eventuality resulting from Brexit.

This would involve NI continuing its relationship with the EU while keeping its constitutional integrity by remaining part of the UK.

It would be framed in a Northern Ireland Cooperation and Association Protocol (NICAP) ensuring unfettered EU/UK trade flows, with customs checks at ports and airports, the protection of citizens, workers and environmental rights and the continuation of peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland.

Also, by offering Northern Ireland the best of both worlds, it would help boost the economy as a global gateway to the EU Single Market and a bridge between the UK and Ireland.

The urgency of the no-deal risk to Northern Ireland necessitates immediate action from all involved in Brussels, London, Dublin and Belfast to find a compromise in which all stand to gain.

The Frontstart could not only break the Brexit deadlock, it could also also provide the solution which shifts NI from the eye of the Brexit storm to a place where it becomes a positive response to the economic, political and constitutional chaos which has threatened these islands and continental Europe since the Brexit vote.

• Jane Morrice is a former head of the European Commission Office in Northern Ireland and Women’s Coalition MLA