Sunday 27 May 2018

Public 'none the wiser' about how a hard border can be avoided - Brexit committee hears

Hilary Benn at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
Hilary Benn at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The public is none the wiser about how a hard border in Ireland can be avoided even with the completion of the first phase of the Brexit talks, the chair of the UK parliament’s Brexit committee has said.

Labour MP Hilary Benn said the deal achieved in December – which promises full regulatory alignment between Ireland and the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit – was a form of words that satisfied Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and DUP leader Arlene Foster.

"It made clear to the DUP that Northern Ireland would not be separated out from the rest of the UK, and by the same time using the words ‘full  alignment’, and once again expressing commitment to a border with no checks," Mr Benn told Independent.ie.

"How do you reconcile that aim with the red lines that the Government has set, in particular this determination to leave the customs union and the single market?

"That’s why some people have described it as a fudge. Others have talked about kicking the can down the road. We will get to the point where people will say ‘Tell us how are you actually going to achieve that given that you have given this cast-iron commitment’."

Mr Benn is due to speak at a Brexit conference tomorrow organised by Dublin City University. President Michael D Higgins will also address the event, along with Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

It comes after Brexit Secretary David Davis told the Brexit Committee that techniques used at the Canada-US border can be improved on in the case of Ireland and the UK.

"It works. With goodwill on all sides it can be made to work. We don’t just have goodwill, we have got massive, mutual economic interest," Mr Davis said.

He said the full regulatory alignment component of the December deal was added in by the Government in the Republic as it "wanted to feel secure about all outcomes".

Mr Davis also said he had a "moral responsibility" to ensure that the Republic is not disadvantaged by Brexit.

Mr Davis was responding to questions from DUP MP Sammy Wilson. During the course of the questioning Mr Wilson accused the Irish Government of taking a "public hissy fit" over Brexit talks late last year.

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