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DUP welcome government's Irish border post-Brexit plan but Sinn Fein say pledges 'bring no comfort'

The DUP has welcomed the government's post-Brexit position paper outlining its Irish border plans as a "constructive step" - while Sinn Fein have said the pledges bring "no comfort".

On Wednesday it was revealed that the Government will argue against any new technological or physical monitoring on the Irish border in Brexit talks over the future of its only land frontier with the EU.

Confounding speculation that the UK would advocate CCTV cameras or number plate recognition systems as part of its vision for a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, a new Whitehall position paper has effectively recommended no change to the current arrangements.

It has also proposed a future customs arrangement which would see 80% of businesses on the island entirely exempt from any new tariffs post-Brexit.

The exemption would apply to small and medium-sized enterprises involved in localised cross-border trade.

In respect of larger companies engaged in international trade, the Government paper proposes they could adhere to any new customs regime by completing retrospective declarations either online or at their premises.

Responding DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "The 'Northern Ireland and Ireland' position paper is a constructive step by Her Majesty's Government. It is clear the Government has listened to voices in Belfast, Dublin, Brussels and London about how the United Kingdom's only EU land border could be managed after we Exit the EU.

"The DUP will not be deflected by those who want to refight old battles. As set out in our 2017 Westminster Manifesto, we will focus on getting the best deal for Northern Ireland as we Exit the EU."

I welcome the commitment to a seamless border and movement of goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is also welcome news that the Government will not countenance any new border in the Irish Sea. Arlene Foster, DUP

Meanwhile Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said the pledges bring "no comfort".

Mrs O'Neill said: "I am not comforted, I don't believe the wider public out there will be comforted from what they read today because, whilst the British Government might say they don't want to see any kind of hard border or technology put in place, it will not be within their gift to deliver that; it will be the other European member states, who clearly think and believe we need to see customs controls," she said.

Mrs O'Neill claimed the UK Government had only a "fleeting concern" on how Brexit could affect Northern Ireland and suggested it was using the region to gain leverage in the wider negotiations with Brussels.

What the British Government are doing is treating us as collateral damage. Michelle O'Neill,SF

She said: "They are very interested in the needs of the British people but not of the needs of the people here who voted to remain within the European Union.

"I think we could be forgiven for thinking that the British Government in this latest document are using us and our unique circumstances here to try to put pressure on the European Union."

Mrs O'Neill reiterated her demand for Northern Ireland to retain special designated EU status post-Brexit and called on the Irish Government to "defend the rights" of Remain voters north of the border.

UUP MLA Steve Aiken welcomed the proposals within the paper.

“It is good to see the proposals around the Customs Partnership Agreement, the transit of goods across the UK, as part of a Common Transit Convention, the establishment of Authorised Economic Operators and achieving common veterinary standards across of these Islands. That should be warmly welcomed by the EU, the Republic of Ireland Government and by sensible commentators. 

“It is also noteworthy that the issue of energy security is being clearly addressed for the first time.  Indeed, the fact that 40% of the Republic’s gas comes from Great Britain, and the volume of Irish trade with the UK, shows clearly that the Irish government needs to make a strong case with the EU for its own need for ‘special status’.

“The calls from Irish Republic and nationalist politicians for ‘Irish Unity’ as a response to Brexit are clearly totally unnecessary and provocative."

All Northern Ireland politicians should be concentrating on getting the Assembly back up and running and getting a voice for Northern Ireland at the table – Republic of Ireland politicians need to be concentrating on making sure that the EU makes the Brexit transition as smooth as possible. Steve Aiken, UUP

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood described the paper as "conflicting, chaotic and deficient".

He said: "This paper is a long way away from meeting the needs of people on this island. Far from recognising the need for a special dispensation to protect people in Northern Ireland, the British Government seems to want the EU to bend over backwards to accommodate their ambitions but give very little in return.

“On practical matters, the British Government position is confused and conflicting. We know that the Irish Government, through the European Union, opposes a hard border, customs posts and CCTV monitoring. The British Government now claims to be opposed to such measures as well. How can that be reconciled with their plan to abandon the Customs Union?

“Even the British Government’s starting point – that the Good Friday Agreement is not predicated on the European Union – is a fundamental misread of Irish nationalism. It fails to recognise that a primary selling point of the agreement for our community was greater cooperation and harmonisation across this island and that the people of the island could be united under the banner of our common European identity.

There is an easier answer to the Irish border question – the British Government could give up its hard Brexit position and negotiate to remain a member of the European customs union. Colum Eastwood, SDLP

Alliance Party Deputy Leader and Brexit Spokesperson Stephen Farry said the Government is in denial on the Irish Border challenge.

“Everyone may wish to avoid a hard border, but any difference in the customs and tariff regimes between the UK and the European Union would require both a heavy administrative burden and some form of physical checks. Even light touch borders such as between Norway and Sweden have a physical frontier.

"This has been the clear and consistent view of the European Union itself and many experts on customs policy.

“It is the UK that is opting to leave the EU and the Government is failing to grasp the reality that the EU would wish to preserve the integrity of their Customs Union and Common External Tariff as much as the UK will in due course wish to protect its own trading relationships with the rest of the world.”

Dismissing problems doesn't make them go away, nor does passing the buck to others. Stephen Farry, Alliance

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