- Brexit secretary admits that failure to secure a Brexit free trade deal would cause a “real problem” for the Northern Ireland peace process.
- Maintaining an invisible border between the UK and Ireland is central to the Good Friday peace agreement.
- The UK is committed to leaving the single market and customs union which will force new border arrangements.
- Talks remain unresolved on how to solve the Northern Ireland border problem.
LONDON — A hard Brexit in which the UK faces tariffs on trade with the EU would cause a “real problem” for peace in Northern Ireland, the Brexit secretary suggested on Tuesday.
David Davis told the House of Lords European Union Select Committee that the peace process was dependent on maintaining an “invisible border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
However, he said that maintaining this would be “difficult” if Britain faces trade tariffs with the EU following a failure to secure a free trade deal.
“At the moment there is a border there but it’s invisible and if we achieve an outcome, as we hope to, that maintains tariff-free trade, then retaining an invisible border would be relatively easy,” he said.
“But if we end up with a tariff arrangement then we’ve got a real problem and dealing with that is difficult.”
The continuation of an invisible land border between the two countries was part of the Good Friday agreement and all sides remain committed to maintaining it.
Davis said the government’s “pre-eminent [concern] is to preserve the peace process and that’s what we’re trying to do,” adding that “the preservation of an invisible border… is a major part of that.”
However, the UK government’s decision to leave the customs union and single market as part of Brexit means the future of the border remains unresolved.
A hard Brexit in which the EU imposes tariffs on trade with the UK could force the creation of new customs checks.
Davis said a breakdown in trade talks could, therefore, cause “bigger problems” in Northern Ireland.
“We are concerned that the outcome we get elsewhere on free trade will have an impact there,” he said.
If we get a free trade arrangement that is tariff-free on goods… then this becomes a relatively straightforward soluble problem. If we don’t get those we’ve got much bigger problems to deal with.”
Brexit divorce deal will ‘favour the EU’
Davis also admitted to committee members that the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is likely to favour the EU side.
“The withdrawal agreement, on balance, will probably favour the [European] Union in terms of things like money and so on,” he said.
However, he insisted that ” the future relationship will favour both sides and will be important to both of us.”
Davis MP also insisted that no business had expressed concern about the lack of progress in negotiations on Britain’s financial obligations, to which committee member Baroness Falkner to say: “I suggest you get out a bit more.”
Theresa May has reportedly privately agreed to pay tens of billions of pounds as part of Britain’s exit from the EU. However, Davis has yet to formally make the offer as part of Brexit negotiations.
Because of this, the next phase of talks were delayed last month, with the EU’s chief negotiation Michel Barnier describing negotiations as being in “deadlock” over the issue.
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