Boris Johnson is set to present detailed Brexit proposals in the next few days, but Ireland has already dismissed one border plan as a “non-starter”.
The prime minister will offer his blueprint for a Brexit deal to the EU following this week’s Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Mr Johnson has vowed to renegotiate the UK’s current withdrawal agreement and demanded the abolition of the Irish border backstop arrangement.
The backstop is designed as an insurance mechanism to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland regardless of the future EU/UK trade relationship.
RTE reported on Monday night that Mr Johnson’s plan to replace the backstop could include “customs clearance sites” on both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
These could be perhaps five to ten miles back, the Irish broadcaster added.
The plan was said to be included in one of four so-called “non-papers” submitted by UK officials during recent discussions in Brussels.
A non-paper is an informal document, usually used to test the reaction of other parties to possible solutions, without necessarily committing the proposer.
Number 10 dismissed suggestions the UK would propose a “string of inspection posts”, as RTE claimed the plans would effectively amount to.
A UK non-paper is understood to have discussed a mechanism whereby customs processes would be conducted at the origin or destination of goods.
The location of inspections would be for customs authorities to decide and could be at the destination or could be at dedicated premises, but most would be expected to be well away from the border.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “Nothing we are proposing involves checks or controls at the border.
“That is an absolute commitment.”
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney posted on Twitter: “Non-Paper = Non-Starter. Time the EU had a serious proposal from the UK Govt if a #Brexit deal is to be achievable in October. NI and IRE deserves better!”
And an Irish government spokesperson said they had yet to see “any credible alternatives” to the current backstop.
They said: “The EU task force has indicated that any non-papers it has received from the UK to date fall well short of the agreed aims and objectives of the backstop.
“The UK’s non-papers were given to the task force on the strict understanding they would not be shared with anyone. The taskforce has said it has received no credible proposals from the British.
“Ireland’s priorities are protecting the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding a hard border and protecting the all island economy, and protecting the EU single market and its benefits for Irish businesses and consumers.
“We have yet to see any credible alternatives to the backstop.”
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the reported plans were “utterly unworkable”.
“They would place an enormous administrative burden on businesses and rely on technology that does not yet exist,” he said.
“Crucially, if true, they represent a rowing back on the commitments made to the people of Northern Ireland two years ago that there would be no return to a hard border or related checks or controls.
“If accurate, these proposals represent yet another failure of the Government’s negotiating strategy.”
The emergence of the mooted Irish border plan came ahead of the third day of the Tory conference in Manchester, during which Justice Secretary Robert Buckland will set out plans for sexual and violent offenders to be kept behind bars for longer.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Priti Patel will use her own conference speech to tell Tory members she will “renew our place as the party of law and order in Britain”.
Ms Patel, the daughter of Ugandan Asians, will also say: “Margaret Thatcher knew that if you made the British people your compass, if you took time to understand their lives and their priorities, then your direction would always be true.
“This daughter of immigrants needs no lectures from the north London metropolitan liberal elite on how our country is enriched by – and better for – being internationalist.”