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Brexit cameras at border in Ireland would threaten peace, warns Hammond

By Colm Kelpie

Cameras and other infrastructure erected along the border with the Republic post-Brexit would become a "legitimate target" and risk undoing the peace process, Chancellor Philip Hammond has warned.

He said any physical aspects to control the crossing would be seen as an affront to "those who do not recognise" the border.

There are concerns that even using number plate recognition technology would breach the aim of avoiding a hard border.

Mr Hammond reiterated to the UK parliament's Treasury Committee his Government's position to avoid any infrastructure and to maintain the Border "broadly as it is now".

He warned: "Number plate recognition requires cameras, not necessarily at the border, but it will certainly require cameras to be installed.

"The challenge in Ireland is that those who don't recognise the border will see any physical manifestation of a border as a legitimate target and that infrastructure will need protecting.

"What we don't want to do is go back to the days when we had a hard protected infrastructure on the border, because that would undo much of the progress that's been made since the Good Friday Agreement."

He said Ireland has a "great deal of interest" in the outcome of the Brexit process because of not only the border issue, but east-west trade.

Mr Hammond said that depending on the outcome of the future relationship phase of the Brexit talks, the border issue becomes more or less difficult to resolve.

"If we for example agree structures with the European Union that allow a highly streamlined border to operate between the UK and European Union, then our starting point to dealing with the specific problems of the Northern Ireland border becomes that much more conducive to finding a positive outcome."

He disagreed that any checks would be needed at the border, claiming Northern Ireland and the Republic already operate a divergent regime on excise for cigarettes and alcohol, and yet there is no physical infrastructure.

"Alcohol duties, tobacco duties, fuel duties, are not harmonised between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, yet the system operates without hard infrastructure at the border.

"That hasn't happened by coincidence. It has happened because a huge amount of work and a huge amount of commitment has gone in on both sides of the border to allowing us to have that separate policy, without the need for a hard infrastructure. And it works pretty well."

Conservative MP Alister Jack said Ireland was the "Achilles heel" to the idea of the UK leaving the EU without a deal and moving forward on World Trade Organisation terms.

Meanwhile in the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, MPs were told that a hard border could be created around Northern Ireland after Brexit even if the UK initially agrees a soft border with the EU.

Economist Paul Mac Flynn raised concerns about proposals that only large businesses could be required to register their imports and exports. He told MPs: "I think the danger is, we could start out with a soft border and end up with a hard border. Like the exemption for small and medium sized enterprises.

"If you're somebody who is going to want to get around a tariff border, all that says to you is - right, don't use trucks, use vans.

"Then we start checking vans. Before you know it, we're checking everyone."

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