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MPs to examine options for Irish border after Brexit

Published 16/09/2016

Laurence Robertson says the focus will be on maintaining free movement of people and goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic
Laurence Robertson says the focus will be on maintaining free movement of people and goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic

An inquiry into the fate of the Irish border as Britain prepares to leave the European Union has been launched by a parliamentary watchdog at Westminster.

MPs will investigate whether Northern Ireland should have a special status in a post-Brexit UK and what changes to visa controls might be needed.

It will also probe how the 310-mile frontier could be policed under a new arrangement.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said it will hold public hearings in November and December as part of its inquiry.

MP Laurence Robertson, committee chairman, said the focus will be on maintaining the existing free movement of people and goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"There is a desire on all sides to maintain the existing open border with the Republic," he said.

"Our inquiry will assess the different options open to the Government that will achieve that objective, with the aim of producing recommendations and conclusions ahead of the start of formal negotiations between the UK and the EU."

The inquiry team, headed by 13 MPs, is also seeking written submissions from individuals and organisations on the future of the border by October 21.

It will assess options under different potential scenarios.

These will include possibilities for keeping the existing Common Travel Area arrangement, a decades-old deal which allows British and Irish citizens move freely throughout the UK and Ireland.

MPs will examine arrangements in other parts of the EU that have an external land border, such as between Norway and Sweden/Finland, or between Switzerland and its neighbours.

It will also assess what would happen if the UK pulled out of the EU customs union, which allows countries to trade more freely with each other without tariffs or taxes on imports.

If Britain were to leave the customs union, some observers say it would be much more complicated to maintain a soft border in Ireland.

Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he was "taken aback" by reports that International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is pressuring Prime Minister Theresa May into leaving the customs union as well as the EU.

Mr Fox reportedly wants to leave the customs union to make it easier for Britain to strike new trade deals with non-EU countries after Brexit.

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