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Northern Ireland needs single market with Republic, says Hain

By Michael McHugh

Northern Ireland should be part of the same customs union and single market as the Republic after Brexit, a former Secretary of State is expected to say today.

Lord Hain is poised to warn against the risk of the Irish border becoming just another bargaining chip in negotiations with Brussels during a major speech.

Peter Hain was Northern Ireland Secretary under Labour from 2005-2007, helping steer the peace process when the IRA was decommissioning weapons and Stormont devolution was being restored. He is planning to say: "What is proposed is not a Brexit for the United Kingdom, nor even for Britain.

"It is a Brexit for the ideological hard right and we go down that path at our great peril, especially for Northern Ireland and the hard-won peace and democratic process which, tragically, this Government seems so airily casual about and so ignorantly indifferent to."

The UK's only land border with an EU state after Brexit will be between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Its future is one of the first issues for discussion during Brussels negotiations, with those living either side of the frontier fearing they could be particularly disadvantaged by the divorce settlement.

A good discussion was held on retaining the open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland during Brussels talks with the EU last week, Brexit Secretary David Davis said.

The House of Lords is debating the issue later. Lord Hain is expected to claim the Government's latest proposals - that the vast majority of smaller cross-border businesses continue trading exempt from restrictions - constitutes not so much a frictionless border as a telepathic one. "This is less a solution to the problem than pie-in-the-sky fantasy."

The Irish Government has already said Northern Ireland should retain the benefits of the European customs union after Brexit. Lord Hain is expected to say: "In my view the only way of resolving the border conundrum is for Northern Ireland to be within the same customs union and single market as the Republic: either Northern Ireland alone or preferably with the whole of the UK."

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