Responding to a report from the Alternative Arrangements Commission on proposals for the Northern Irish border post-Brexit, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) has welcomed the proposals but noted they seek to provide the same solutions as the Backstop. It is concerned that there could be a divergence between Northern Ireland food products and those from Great Britain.

The Alternative Arrangements Commission’s report looks at ways to avoid the ‘Irish Backstop’ included in the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union and made a series of recommendations to ensure there is no need for a hard border after Brexit.

With food standards being a key border issue, due to strict EU rules on food products entering from a non-member state, the Commission recommends a single zone for food standards across Britain and Ireland which would be closely aligned with the EU.

Gary McFarlane, Northern Ireland director at CIEH, said: “Whilst we welcome these tangible proposals to address the serious issue of the Northern Ireland border post-Brexit, these are essentially the same solutions as offered in the existing Backstop, just in another name and with slightly different processes.

“If the UK decides to move away from EU standards, what happens if the Northern Irish executive moves to align itself with the Republic of Ireland as the proposals suggest could happen?

“This could create divergence between NI food products and those from Great Britain. And that then raises questions about how GB products entering NI would be dealt with?”

He continued: “We welcome the fact that there appears to be an underlying realisation and acceptance now that we must have a workable agreement between the UK and the EU post EU exit to avoid the necessity for checks on food. There is no technical fix to the problem and without such agreement physical checks are inevitable.

“There is a great deal of politics at play but ensuring food standards and safety across our country after Brexit must remain of paramount importance.”