Brexit: DUP and Sinn Fein clash over Boris Johnson plans for Irish Sea border ‘work around’

Boris Johnson reportedly wants to sidestep the Irish Sea customs border agreed in the Brexit withdrawal agreementBoris Johnson reportedly wants to sidestep the Irish Sea customs border agreed in the Brexit withdrawal agreement
Boris Johnson reportedly wants to sidestep the Irish Sea customs border agreed in the Brexit withdrawal agreement | PA (Press Association)
Reports that Boris Johnson’s Brexit team has been ordered to “get around” the proposed customs border in the Irish Sea has caused sharply contrasting responses from the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Officials in Taskforce Europe, run by Johnson’s EU negotiator David Frost, are working in secret on proposals to ensure that there do not need to be checks on goods passing from Britain to Northern Ireland.

They believe the new English Attorney-General, Suella Braverman, might have to give new legal advice to justify the move.

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Insiders say she was appointed because her predecessor Geoffrey Cox was not willing to countenance action that will be seen in Brussels as a breach of the exit agreement.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson responded that his party “will welcome any measures to ensure Northern Ireland businesses continue to have unfettered access to the UK single market”.

However, his party’s partners in the newly revived Stormont Executive, Sinn Fein, said the UK “must not be allowed to sidestep their responsibilities to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the all Ireland economy”, with its South Down MP Chris Hazzard describing the reports as “deeply concerning”.

There have been no reports that Mr Johnson’s purported plans would risk renewed customs checks on the Irish border.

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“There is deadly serious internal work going on about not obeying the Northern Ireland protocol,” a senior source told the Sunday Times. “Taskforce Europe are looking into that. That’s why they had Suella put in there.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the News Letter that Northern Ireland is “an integral part of the UK and there should be no internal trade borders”.

He added: “Great Britain is Northern Ireland’s main market with 72% of all goods leaving Belfast port destined for Britain. An Irish Sea border will increase costs and will be bad for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“The prime minister should never have conceded to the EU that a border could be placed in the Irish Sea.

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“We will welcome any measures to ensure Northern Ireland businesses continue to have unfettered access to the UK single market and that there is free flow of goods within that market.”

His party will be seeking more information about the development, he added.

But Mr Hazzard, fearing the plans could mean a return to customs checks on the Irish border, said the UK government must not be allowed to “sidestep their responsibilities”.

He said: “While there is no such thing as a good Brexit, the protections secured in the Irish Protocol and Withdrawal Agreement offer some protections to local communities and businesses in the north.

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“It now appears the British government is planning to ride roughshod over what has already been agreed; this would be completely unacceptable.

“We need to see the EU27 and the Irish government protecting what has already been agreed on the north and working to prevent the Tories from adopting an a la carte approach to their international obligations and responsibilities.

“Businesses in the north depend on these protections and they cannot be set aside unilaterally by the Tories.”

The details emerged as the Mr Frost plans this week to spell out the UK’s demands for a trade deal with Brussels, insisting on the same rights as Canada.

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Officials have reportedly not ruled out an attempt to try to claw back money from the EU divorce bill if the EU will not play ball.

Mr Johnson’s Brexit ‘war cabinet’ is planning to meet tomorrow to sign off the plans, which will be published online on Thursday and laid out in Parliament.

In a move that will delight Eurosceptics, the “mandate” for trade talks with the US will be published the following week, allowing the UK to negotiate with the EU and the US at the same time – something they believe will give Britain more leverage.