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Coveney: North should stay in customs union after Brexit

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, pictured arriving at the Armagh City Hotel last night ahead of a meeting with the Kingsmill families and Arlene Foster, yesterday urged local business leaders at an event in Belfast to lobby for the UK to stay in a single market                                 
Picture by Michael McHugh/PA
Siobhan Fenton

NORTHERN Ireland should retain the benefits of the European customs union after Brexit, the Republic’s foreign affairs minister has said.

Simon Coveney said this could be achieved through a soft Brexit whereby the UK remains in the single market or the customs union.

He made the remarks at an event in Belfast, where he addressed local business leaders and urged them to lobby for the UK to stay in the single market and protect the cross-border movement of 118,000 vehicles a day.

He said: “There is one clear way in which we can reserve these arrangements – and that is for the UK to remain a member of a customs union, and of the single market.

“As long as we are still at the stage of considering options as regards customs... the best solution for Northern Ireland is for the UK to remain within the customs union.

“Failing that, we need a solution which sees Northern Ireland retain the benefits of the customs union, and the associated responsibilities.”

“For example, how can the UK expect to maintain an open border, an objective we all share, while asking Ireland and other EU member states to accept that beef that doesn’t meet European standards can be easily brought into Ireland from Northern Ireland without the necessary controls?

“This simply doesn’t tally with the UK’s other stated objective of not wishing to undermine the integrity of the single market and customs union and doing nothing that damages Ireland and our political, social and economic interests. Continued membership of this customs union and single market – or something very like it – is the answer.”

The minister said that the Brexit referendum vote did not bind the UK government to leaving the customs union: “We were distraught at the UK vote to leave the EU, we don’t deny that. But we have accepted it.

“What we won’t accept is that people voted explicitly to leave a customs union or single market. They didn’t, and history shouldn’t be rewritten to pretend that they did.”

Earlier this month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also used a speech he delivered in Belfast to address the issue of the UK’s future relationship with the customs union.

Speaking at Queen’s University, he said: “If the United Kingdom does not want to stay in the customs union, perhaps there can be a EU-UK customs union.

“After all, we have one with Turkey. Surely we can have one with the United Kingdom?”

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