David Davis insisted Northern Ireland would not be “left behind” in the single market and customs union after Brexit as Theresa May worked to get withdrawal negotiations back on track.
The prime minister was expected to speak to DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill yesterday, and is due to visit Brussels again later this week to try to finalise a divorce deal which would allow leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to give the green light to trade talks next week.
But Downing Street suggested that negotiations could go right up to the wire at the leaders’ summit in the Belgian capital on December 14.
Mrs May is facing internal demands not to cut separate deals for different parts of the UK, after the leaders of Scotland, Wales and London called for carve-outs to remain in the single market and customs union.
Mr Davis stressed that the idea that Northern Ireland would be left inside the single market or customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland was a “falsehood”.
Answering an urgent question in the House of Commons, the Brexit secretary said: “The suggestion that we might depart the European Union but leave one part of the United Kingdom behind, still inside the single market and customs union – that is emphatically not something that the UK government is considering.
“So when the first minister of Wales complains about it, or the first minister of Scotland says it’s a reason to start banging the tattered drum of independence, or the mayor of London says it justifies a hard border around the M25 – I say they’re making a foolish mistake.
“No UK government would allow such a thing, let alone a Conservative and Unionist one.”
In a scathing assessment of the turmoil surrounding the talks, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer said that the “DUP tail is wagging the Conservative dog”.
He urged Mrs May to “rethink her reckless red lines” and put the option back on the table of the UK remaining within the European single market and customs union.