The UK’s Brexit secretary says Northern Ireland businesses trading across the border should contact the Irish government for advice in the event of a ‘no-deal’.
Dominic Raab made the comments on Thursday as he was releasing draft government papers, or EU Exit Technical Notices, covering medicine, finance and farming in the event of a no-deal.
Mr Raab repeated that the UK government would not pull back from previous commitments on Northern Ireland.
Companies exporting across the Irish border should “consider whether you will need advice from the Irish Government about preparations you need to make” he said.
He said the papers “set out the practical information that we think Northern Ireland businesses should look at,” in the case of a ‘no deal’ situation.
Responding to a question about whether there was to be a special arrangement for Northern Ireland, Mr Raab said: “I think we’re saying very loud and clear that we will not allow anything to disrupt the terms of the Belfast agreement.
“We wouldn’t want to return to any form of hard border at the border.” Mr Raab added: “That’s a clear commitment and we have no intention of relenting from it.”
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he believes London and Dublin are privately making plans to ensure cross border trade continues, but that Dublin is playing up the possibility of ‘a hard border’ at the behest of Brussels in order to make negotiations difficult for the UK. The release of the government papers is intended to “frighten” people into accepting the Prime Minister’s preferred option of a comprehensive deal which involves remaining in the customs union and single market, he said.
However many senior Tories believe a ‘no-deal’ could be a better option because it would likely result in tariff free trading with the EU continuing through custom and practise.
“It appears that Dominic Raab is passing the buck,” he said. “They [Dublin] are saying they want a hard border between the Republic of Ireland Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal. But Raab is in effect responding: ‘We are quite happy for NI traders to trade in the Republic of Ireland but it is up to you [Dublin] to say how that should be done. If you [Dublin] are telling Northern Ireland businessmen you are stopping them trading across the border, then you tell them because the UK is not stopping it’.”
But Alliance Brexit spokesman Stephen Farry said it was “farcical” for the UK government to suggest businesses contact Dublin for advice.
UUP leader Robin Swann said he had asked Secretary of State Karen Bradley for “as much clarity and certainty as possible” about cross border trade issues. And SDLP Brexit spokeswoman Claire Hanna said the “absence of the backstop” in any of the papers was “an extremely worrying development”.