Theresa Villiers has dismissed Conservative colleague Ken Clarke’s warning that a Brexit would lead to full border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme on Monday, the Tory veteran former minister claimed that Brexit would lead to customs checks and passport controls between the two parts of Ireland.
But Ms Villiers told the News Letter: “I have the greatest respect for Ken Clarke but he’s been very wrong on many European matters over many years.
“I’m not sure if he still supports the euro, but certainly he was one of its supporters in the past.
“It’s clear – we’ve had a common travel area with the Republic of Ireland for very nearly a hundred years and that common travel area embraces places which are not in the EU – Jersey and Guernsey – so there is absolutely no reason why we can’t continue with a common travel area in the event of a Brexit vote.
“All the indications are that Ireland and the Irish government also want to retain a border which is as open as possible so with goodwill on both sides there is no reason why we should have to change the arrangements that currently operate – ie to have an open and porous border – because it’s in the interests of both countries that that continues to be the case.”
Those arguing against leaving the EU have questioned how that could continue to be the case if a post-EU UK was to control immigration – one of the major goals of the ‘Leave’ campaign.
But Ms Villiers said that although there would be “risks to be managed from having an open border, many of those risks already apply and they are managed successfully by bilateral cooperation” without any need for passport control.
Ms Villiers said that the difference would be that if EU nationals migrated across the border illegally they could then be deported, unlike the current system.
The Secretary of State also dismissed comments from Ukip’s Northern Ireland leader David McNarry, who said “Cameron must deploy soldiers to the Irish border to prepare for a Leave victory”.
Ms Villiers said that the Army would not be sent to the border “under any scenario”.