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No return to hard Northern Ireland border post-Brexit, MPs told

Published 14/09/2016

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire gives evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons

There will be no introduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain post Brexit, MPs have been told.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire was pressed on the matter during an appearance before a select committee at Westminster.

He said: "In the same way that I do not want to see a return to the borders of the past in relation to the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, I do not therefore then want to see some sort of hard border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and treating, in essence, another part of the United Kingdom in a separate way to another part of the United Kingdom."

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson had called for the recently appointed Secretary of State to categorically "rule out" the prospect of new border checks for people travelling from Northern Ireland to other parts of the UK.

Mr Brokenshire said it was important to ensure free movement of people but acknowledged that formal negotiations on leaving the European Union had not yet begun.

He added: "It is that approach that we are taking to the solutions ahead to ensure that there is that sense of people being able to move freely between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and not seeing equally that return to the borders of the past in terms of the land border to the south.

"That is informing our approach as we embark upon the negotiations ahead."

Independent North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon also urged the minister to provide assurances that he would not trigger a border poll, despite calls from republicans in light of the referendum result.

She said: "When you have met the Sinn Fein leadership, have you raised this issue and have you said, would they ever so kindly just recognise the facts and hush up about calling for a border poll?"

Mr Brokenshire told the committee there was "strong support" for the current political arrangements and saw "no evidence" that would lead to him calling a vote on the constitutional issue.

He added: "I have seen no evidence to require me to trigger a border poll because the majority of the public remain firmly behind the political settlement.

"Others will say or do what they choose but I am very focused and very clear on the responsibilities that I hold and the evidence which I see which does not mean me triggering a border poll."

During a lengthy committee session, the minister was quizzed on a range of other matters including the establishment of new bodies to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland's violent past; the pursuit of former soldiers in relation to Troubles' deaths; and efforts to secure compensation for the victims of Libyan sponsored terrorism.

He outlined tackling paramilitary activity as a priority, adding: " I know this is difficult, this is challenging, this is something that will need a really concerted effort on so many different fronts. But, for me it is important."

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