Northern Ireland news

Nationalist politicians fear hard border following rejection of customs union

European Commission negotiator Michel Barnier held talks with Brexit Secretary David Davis at 10 Downing Street. Picture by Stefan Rousseau, Press Association

NATIONALIST politicians have expressed fears that a hard border is inevitable after Downing Street insisted the UK will not remain part of a European customs union.

Following talks with Brexit Secretary David Davis in London yesterday, the European Commission's chief negotiator Michel Barnier also warned that leaving the customs union will result in barriers to trade.

He insisted the EU needs clarity about what the British government wants its future relationship with the bloc to be.

Mr Davis said Britain wanted a free trade deal with the EU and the freedom to make deals with other countries.

But Mr Barnier said that "without a customs union and outside the single market", barriers to trade in goods and services "are unavoidable".

While the DUP welcomed the British government's "categorical" rejection of a customs union, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance warned that a hard border will have devastating political and economic consequences for the north.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said remaining part of the single market and customs union was the only way to prevent a hard border.

"It is the only way to protect the significant amount of trade we do, both with the European Union and with Britain," she said.

"Putting all of that in jeopardy would be economically and political dangerous."

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard said the British government had made a "reckless" decision.

"The freedom and rights of Irish citizens to travel, work, and study on their island home has been jeopardised once more by British government intransigence," he said.

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry also said a hard border could only be avoided if the UK or the north alone had the same customs arrangement as the EU.

"This decision also goes completely against the advice of the business community UK-wide and ignores the implications of the government's own economic analysis," he said.

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