Keep NI in customs union: Clarke

Keep NI in customs union: Clarke

Pro-EU Conservative MP Ken Clarke has said the UK remaining in the single market and customs union is essential for peace and stability in Northern Ireland and to ensure a “hard” border with the republic.

He told the BBC that no one wanted physical border controls and MPs have warned there would be “severe” impacts if the land border was blocked.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee is examining the impact of the UK leaving the customs union.

Clarke, the 1990s finance minister, said: “The border problem in Northern Ireland, the supreme importance of keeping the settlement in place, retaining peace in Northern Ireland, is probably the single biggest, most important reason why it would be preferable for the United Kingdom as a whole to stay in the single market and the customs union.

“If the Brexiteers, these right-wing nationalists, won’t allow us to do that then the best solution after that – I agree with the taoiseach [Irish prime minister] actually – is to have a border down the Irish Sea.”

London claims it is aiming for a deal which will avoid any physical barriers at the border but is yet to propose a model to explain how this could happen.

The UK is due to withdraw from the EU and customs union in March 2019.

Dublin remains deeply sceptical of the entire Brexit strategy.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the country was not ready to allow Brexit talks to move to the second phase next month. He was speaking ahead of talks with crisis-ridden UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

“Yes, we all want to move onto phase two of the Brexit negotiations but we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that. We have very serious issues, particularly around the [Irish] border, that need more clarity,” Coveney told the media before the talks.

Their talks are due to be Brexit-dominated.

The minister also told the Irish parliament that a no-deal outcome would be disastrous.

“It would be very, very bad for Britain and for Ireland should that happen,’’ Coveney said.

“I do not believe the British government will allow it happen.’’

But he said the government was assessing the impact of talks in Brussels breaking down.

“All departments are assessing in a very concrete way the immediate legal or practical consequences of a no-deal Brexit in their areas and what mitigating measures might be possible,’’ Coveney said.

Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will also discuss the tricky divorce at an EU summit in Sweden today (Friday).

Politicians are keen to avoid a return to Irish civil war. Picture credit: Flickr  


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