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Brexit: Northern Ireland may stay in single market under border deal tabled by London

David Trimble
David Trimble

Northern Ireland could remain in the customs union after Brexit — even if the rest of the UK leaves — as part of a deal to break the deadlock over the Irish border, it has been reported.

However, the plan — tabled by London — would depend on the restoration of the Stormont Executive, according to The Times.

The newspaper reported that sources in Dublin had said there had been “movement” on the key issue of the border, which has stalled negotiations, with expectations of a breakthrough before a mid-December summit.

The EU is preparing to offer a two-year deal as early as January in response, it was reported.

It’s understood that the UK Government’s proposal will commit it to “avoiding regulatory divergence” in Ireland after Brexit.

It implies that Northern Ireland would remain part of the customs union and single market while the rest of the UK leaves.

But the plan would involve devolving further powers to Stormont to enable convergence with the Republic in sectors such as energy and agriculture, it was reported.

If the proposals are accurate, they are at odds with the DUP’s position — that Northern Ireland will leave the customs union and single market with the rest of the UK.

Last night, former first minister Lord Trimble, said an internal border running down the Irish Sea would be “dangerous” for unionists.

The former UUP leader told the Spectator magazine: “The Belfast Agreement recognises British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, and recognises Northern Ireland as part of the UK.

“To have provisions treating us as if we are not part of the UK is clearly contrary to that agreement and is something no unionist is going to support.

“Once it begins to dawn on the unionist electorate that the Irish government is trying to break up the UK then we are into very dangerous territory indeed.

“The Government needs to quash this idea very quickly, and make it clear that we will not have any damage done to our constitution.”

The Tory peer accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of trying to appeal to Sinn Fein voters, even though the premier’s Fine Gael party has vast differences with Gerry Adams’ party on a range of issues.

Speaking in Iraq yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated her opposition to a hard border in Ireland.

“The Irish Government does not want that, parties in Northern Ireland don’t want that. This is not just about trade across the border, but people’s day-to-day lives,” she said.

“We are maintaining the common travel area that has been in place since 1923, so long before either Ireland or the UK were members of the EU. That is part of what we have agreed with the EU.

“We also want to ensure that trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic can continue, but also that trade between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK can continue. I want to get on to those trade talks and I am very clear — no hard border.

“The practical solution is about trade, about the arrangements as goods cross borders, that is why it is so important that we move on to the next phase, with the EU to look at our trade relationship for the future, and building that deep and special partnership that will be important to Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, but also important to the other members of the EU as well.”

Meanwhile, Neale Richmond, EU affairs spokesman for Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael party, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “We have nearly 275 border crossings along a frontier of just 300 miles, as opposed to 20-25 crossings at the height of the Troubles.

“We believe a new customs arrangement between the UK and EU would allow this to be resolved.”

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