Monday 16 September 2019

Davis rows back over claims to UK parliament on Brexit vote

Former PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton. Photo: PA Wire
Former PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton. Photo: PA Wire

Colm Kelpie

Brexit Secretary David Davis has been forced to row back on claims that British MPs may only be given a vote on the deal pulling the UK out of the European Union after the country had quit. He said the withdrawal agreement could go down to the wire, and added that it could be that the British parliament wouldn't get a chance to examine the deal until after March 2019.

"It could be, yeah. It [the vote] can't come before we have the deal," Mr Davis said, although he reiterated that MPs would be able to vote on the deal before the European Parliament does so.

But Prime Minister Theresa May later appeared to contradict Mr Davis, telling MPs she was "confident" a deal would be secured in time for it to go before MPs.

Officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union then issued a statement clarifying the Brexit Secretary's comments, saying they were working to reach an agreement on the final deal "in good time" before they leave the EU in March 2019.

Mr Davis had been speaking at the Exiting the European Union Committee. He also told the committee that a transition deal should be agreed early next year, but that a no-deal option won't be taken off the table.

"I would be aiming to get, certainly, the outlines of it agreed - if we could - in the first quarter [of 2018] ... but it's a negotiation," the Brexit Secretary added.

It came as the head of the PSNI warned that a hard border on the island of Ireland could be exploited by criminals and violent dissident republicans

Chief Superintendent George Hamilton said border technology and any staff would need to be protected, and officers doing that work could themselves become targets.

"Inevitably, you'd need to have some manifestation of the state at the border, probably in terms of people, but even in terms of technology. Those people and technology would need to be protected. Probably police officers in that arena may in turn become a target," Mr Hamilton told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

He said the PSNI, in co-operation with the gardaí, police the border in terms of immigration and crime in an "unpredictable" and "agile" manner.

He said that even in the days of the Troubles, when there were fixed posts, the border was porous.

Mr Davis told the Exiting the European Union Committee that one of his aims was to get an outcome that "doesn't do harm to Ireland".

"They have got a great deal of investment in maintaining sales to us, and through us to the continent," Mr Davis said.

He also said that it remains the British government's position that there will be no physical border or infrastructure on the border after Brexit. He said the UK government believes that to do this, there would need to be much greater use of so-called Authorised Economic Operators.

In those cases, checks are carried out in the facilities owned by those operators by customs officials.

"There are two sides to this and it does mean that the European Union ought to agree with the Irish Republic that it can do similar things," Mr Davis said.

The Brexit Secretary said he believes that the Government here believes that there can be no hard border if there's no deal.

"There's been a change of government. We haven't really had the time to settle down, although the Prime Minister has seen the Taoiseach twice.

"The Commission has shown some degree of scepticism. We have taken the view bluntly that this is going to be completely dependent on the future relationship, which we will talk through when we get to that point."

Mr Davis said he believed Britain would be able to seal a trade-and-customs arrangement by the end of the two-year exit process in March 2019, and that it was important to do so.

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