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Brexit: MPs assured there’ll be no physical checkpoints at Irish border

By Lizzy Buchan

MPs have won a concession from the Government over the future of the Irish border, ensuring there will be no physical "checks and controls" after Brexit.

In a dramatic day of votes on Theresa May's flagship Brexit bill, a bid to give teeth to the Prime Minister's promise of "no physical infrastructure" on the border was waved through successfully without a vote.

The border has proved to be a major stumbling block in Brexit talks, amid warnings that checkpoints and cameras could lead to a return to violence.

The Prime Minister has previously said she could never allow a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it has proved a tricky balancing act as her DUP allies will not accept any form of customs arrangement that would set Northern Ireland apart from the rest of the UK.

The Lords amendment, tabled by former Tory chairman Chris Patten, compels the Government to act in a way that is compatible with the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to the Troubles.

It would forbid infrastructure or checks that "did not exist before exit day and are not subject to an agreement" between Westminster and Dublin, such as border posts and customs checks.

Cabinet secretary David Lidington said the Government agreed with the "spirit" of the amendment, which is effectively "a statement of government policy" and said ministers would allow it to pass with a few tweaks to the legal language.

Speaking in the Lords last month, Lord Patten had accused Brexiteers of "blundering into Northern Ireland with a policy which is clueless and deluded with a can of petrol and a box of matches in the other hand".

Welcoming the move, a Labour spokesperson said: "Labour has repeatedly emphasised that Brexit cannot lead to a hard border in Northern Ireland or any disruption to the North-South cooperation guaranteed by the Good Friday Agreement.

"The amendment passed in the Lords and accepted today by the Government states that there can be no physical infrastructure introduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic following exit day, and that nothing in the act can diminish full North-South cooperation."

Earlier, the Government managed to head off a major defeat on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill by offering a last-minute concession to Tory rebels that would give parliament a bigger say on the final deal.

The Government has not and will not agree to MPs binding its hands in the Brexit negotiations, officials have insisted, after the Prime Minister saw off a threatened rebellion with the promise of concessions.

Theresa May met pro-EU Tories in her private room in the Commons moments before a crucial vote to hear their demands for a truly meaningful vote on the final exit deal.

Senior Remainer Dominic Grieve said Mrs May promised to table amendments in the House of Lords which will address their concerns.

Moments later, MPs voted by 324 to 298 to reject a House of Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would have given Parliament the power to tell the PM to go back and renegotiate the Brexit deal she secures from Brussels.

Mr Grieve withdrew his own amendment, which would have given MPs powers to dictate what the Government should do if no acceptable agreement is reached by February 2019.

The parts of his amendment which he expects to be taken forward by ministers provide a mechanism by which Parliament has to be consulted by the end of November in the event of no deal or if a proposed agreement is rejected, he said.

In a statement later, the Department for Exiting the European Union said the Government had "agreed to look for a compromise".

Belfast Telegraph

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