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Villiers says post-Brexit border will be kept open by 'common sense and goodwill'

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan are at odds over what may happen to the Irish border in the event of a Brexit

THERESA Villiers has said the border will remain open in the event of a Britain leaving the European Union by virtue of "common sense and goodwill".

The secretary of state's remarks come just days after the Republic's foreign affairs minister warned that it would be the 27 countries remaining in the EU – not the London and Dublin governments – who would decide whether the common travel area between the Republic and the UK prevailed post-Brexit.

Charlie Flanagan told The Irish News last week that nobody could say "with any certainty" that the border would not harden if the Leave campaign was victorious in June 23's referendum.

"Ultimately, there may be issues that would be decided by the 27 EU member states, so at best this will give rise to a great degree of uncertainty," he said.

"I don't believe it's therefore possible for people to say with any degree of certainty that the situation will remain the same – I don't believe it can."

On Monday, a cabinet colleague of Ms Villiers also contradicted the eurosceptic secretary of state's assertion about the continued operation of the common travel area, which predates both Britain and the Republic's membership of the EU.

David Lidington agreed with Mr Flanagan and said the secretary of state's claim "flies in the face of reality".

"Any British government would want to try to maintain the common travel area but where Charlie Flanagan is right is that this would depend on what Ireland's obligations were with an EU of 27," Mr Lidington said.

"What you cannot say is that there is no risk to the common travel area – that, I think, flies in the face of reality."

But in an interview published in this week's Church of Ireland Gazette, Ms Villiers insists: "the border can be exactly the same after a Brexit vote as it is now".

"The Irish ambassador has made that clear; a number of Irish politicians have also made clear that they want to keep an open border," the secretary of state said.

"It’s perfectly possible to do that; with a bit of common sense and goodwill we can maintain a border which is just as open after a Brexit vote as it is today."

The regional chairman of StrongerIN said the secretary of state's claim was "either naïve or disingenuous".

However Tom Kelly, chair of the Stronger IN group, said Ms Villiers could not not know what would happen to the border post-Brexit.

"The Leave campaign is adamant that it will restrict migration from EU countries into the UK and yet Ms Villiers is yet to explain in any clear or convincing terms how she would prevent migration from the Republic without border controls," he said.

"This is an absolutely fundamental question that the Leave campaign is yet to answer with one voice but instead, leading voices are contradicting one another."

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