DUP MP Ian Paisley has insisted Northern Ireland will be leaving the EU on exactly the same terms as the rest of the UK.
Speculation emerged yesterday that the EU draft withdrawal agreement drawn up by Brussels will stipulate NI effectively stays in the customs union and single market after Brexit to avoid a hard border.
Mr Paisley said this speculation was based on the “point of view” of the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who yesterday warned border checks between NI and the Republic will be “unavoidable” under Theresa May’s Brexit plans for the UK to leave the single market and customs union.
Mr Barnier confirmed that Brussels is drawing up a legal definition of the regulatory alignment that must continue between Northern Ireland and the EU to avoid the creation of a hard border.
London had provided no proposals for the kind of technological fix which could get around this, he told a press conference in the Belgian capital.
But Mr Paisley said: “The whole of the UK is leaving the EU and that means that we’re leaving the customs union and single market.
“Whilst Mr Barnier has made a comment that the only way you can prevent certain things from happening is by staying in the customs union, it’s just his point of view, it’s not going to happen.
“You’ve already seen that whenever Theresa May made her agreement at Brussels it was made very clear that the whole of the UK is leaving, and the proposals were agreed then. This is yesterday’s news from what I can see.
“We are leaving the EU, end of story. We’re all leaving on the same terms. Perth will leave on the same terms as Portadown.”
Regarding Mr Barnier’s warning of customs controls, DUP MEP Diane Dodds said: “Everyone has committed to avoiding a hard border and the UK has said it will not impose physical infrastructure at the border. It seems it is only the EU that is brandishing the threat of customs controls.”
Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson said that flexibility was needed in the Brexit negotiations and that there need not be anything inevitable about border checks.
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “Barnier decrees Northern Ireland must stay in the single market and customs union. Well, Mr Barnier, whether you like it or not Northern Ireland is part of the sovereign territory of the UK, not the ‘sovereign’ territory of the EU. Our destiny lies with the UK, not the EU.”
Meanwhile, Alliance’s Stephen Farry said he was encouraged by reports that suggested the EU draft withdrawal agreement will stipulate Northern Ireland remains in the customs union and single market after Brexit.
He commented: “It would be better in every respect if the UK as a whole remained within both the customs union and the single market ... However, if necessary, a Northern Ireland-only approach would be the next best alternative. This is important not just to defend the current economic situation but to allow Northern Ireland to grow and flourish.”