British prime minister's deputy defends 'ask Dublin' advice to businesses

David Lidington defended British government advice on no deal cross-border trade

THERESA May's deputy has defended the British government's suggestion that cross-border businesses contact the Dublin government for advice on trading in a 'no-deal' Brexit scenario.

The Cabinet Minister David Lidington said it was not for the British government to decide what happens on the southern side of the border.

The advice, which was included in official UK government papers on trading in the absence of a comprehensive withdrawal agreement with the EU, was met with widespread criticism.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry described the advice as "farcical", while Manufacturing NI's Stephen Kelly said it was "extraordinary".

Speaking during a visit to Derry yesterday, where he met a number of business organisations, Mr Lidington said the same advice would be given to businesses in Britain who were seeking to trade with France.

"It can't be for UK ministers to determine or give authority upon what steps are taken in the Irish government, any more than what we can say the French would be doing at Calais," he said.

"That is something the French authorities would have to take their decision on – the Belgians would have to take the decision on what happens at the Port of Ostend."

Mr Lidington reaffirmed the British government's commitment to avoiding a hard border.

"Our message to business trading across the border is that our commitment is to respecting every detail of the Good Friday and Belfast Agreements and working as hard as we can to ensure there is no friction on the border," he said.

"We will be striving to keep the border open but what I can't do is say what the Irish government would do within its jurisdiction as they will have to talk to the European Commission."

The cabinet minister also responded to accusations that Chancellor Philip Hammond was peddling a "dodgy Project Fear" with warnings that a no-deal Brexit could cause major economic damage.

Brexit-backing Tories reacted furiously after Mr Hammond, in a leaked letter to Tory Nicky Morgan, pointed to provisional analysis which claimed UK GDP could fall and borrowing could be around £80 billion a year higher by 2033/34 under a no-deal scenario.

Mr Lidington told BBC Radio 4 yesterday that the data was "nothing new" and that Mr Hammond was "absolutely committed" to the objectives that the British government had set out in the Chequers agreement.

"This is provisional analysis that the Treasury published back in January this year and I think all Philip was doing was simply referring back to that in response to a senior member of parliament," he said.

While four of Stormont's five main parties' press offices issued reaction to Thursday's 'no deal' advice to business, the DUP was silent.

However, DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told the News Letter that he believed London and Dublin were privately making plans to ensure cross border trade continues but that the Republic's government was playing up the possibility of a hard border at the behest of Brussels in order to make negotiations difficult for the UK.

The East Antrim MP said Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab was "passing the buck" to Dublin.

He suggested post-Brexit cross-border trade would be prevented by Dublin rather than the British government.

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