Northern Ireland news

Brexit minister's 'free-flowing border' remarks branded laughable

David Davis gives evidence to Westminster's Brexit Select Committee. Picture by PA Wire

ASSURANCES by British Brexit minister David Davis that there will be no border posts in Ireland after the UK leaves the EU have been dismissed by Sinn Féin as "laughable".

Mr Davis yesterday acknowledged there was "quite a lot of design work to do" on a system to monitor goods crossing the border but differences in excise duties were already addressed in "a subtle and not highly visible way".

He told a Westminster scrutiny committee on Brexit that the British government would adopt technology to cover the movement of goods between the north and the Republic.

"It is not going to be easy, it is going to cost us money, a lot of work on technology, to put border controls in but without having border posts – but that is what we intend to do," he said.

Businesses north and south are opposed to a hard border following Brexit, with the potential for long queues for paperwork checks evoking images of the Troubles.

Tour operators, hoteliers, business leaders and members of the agriculture industry are among those concerned about the implications if no special deal is struck between the UK and Irish government.

"I am confident that actually the two nations and the (European) Commission between them will be able to solve this because we really want to, because the technology is better than it was 20 years ago and because we all understand the value of it," the Brexit minister said.

"We are not going to do anything which jeopardises the peace process."

Mr Davis said the same system for sending goods between Belfast and Dublin could also control trade between the UK and a city like Rotterdam in Holland.

Freedom of movement of people between the UK and Ireland is covered by separate arrangements.

Under the UK's 1949 Ireland Act, Irish citizens living in Britain are treated as "non-foreign".

That may have to be reviewed post-Brexit, given that the Republic would still be in the EU.

Mr Davis added: "What we will aim to do is pretty much identical to the 1949 Act, which gives effectively citizenship rights to the citizens of each country."

However, Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd said the Brexit secretary's assurances about the border would not allay people's fears.

He described the minister's remarks as "laughable" and said the only solution was to secure special status for the north within the EU.

"He claims there will be a digital border and that his government will develop the technology to manage it but given his government's track record of trying and failing to develop bespoke computer systems his comments will not reassure anyone," Mr O'Dowd said.

"And his comments are all the more ridiculous because it won't be up to Britain to decide what any EU border will look like – that decision will be taken by the 27 member states."

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed Mr Davis's remarks.

"We have a political agreement between the Government that I lead and the British Government that there will be no return to a hard border, that is a border with customs posts, because that border did not serve us in the past," he said.

"I am glad that that has been clarified again by the Secretary of State on behalf of the British Government.

"That's a political imperative and a political commencement point for us - no return to a hard border."

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