A solution for the Irish border problem may not be found until after the UK has left the European Union, Brexit Secretary David Davis has admitted.
Mr Davis, giving evidence before a parliamentary committee on Wednesday morning, said that given there is a transition period agreed with the UK remaining in the customs union until January 2021, a final solution for the Northern Ireland border isn’t needed to be fully in place until that period ends.
“Our undertaking is very plain,” he said. “We will avoid a hard border at all costs. We will underpin the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement and all the elements of it and we will come up with a mechanism which will enable that to happen at the border.
“What we have said all along and indeed the council [European Council] agreed, and indeed Mr Varadkar agreed, the best way to do that is with a good free trade agreement. That eliminates a lot of the issues from the beginning, not all of them, but a lot of them.”
Mr Davis brushed aside reports that the European Council had set a deadline of June for a final decision on the Irish border.
The Brexit Secretary has previously suggested he was looking to October for an agreement.
He told the committee: “In negotiations, people try to set up deadlines - sometimes artificial deadlines - to put pressure on an element of the negotiation which they think is in their favour.”
Mr Davis said he agreed with Irish Taioseach Leo Varadkar that a good agreement in October was better than any agreement in March.
The Brexit secretary added that option C regarding the Irish border, regulatory alignment, was a “reserve parachute.”
Mr Davis visited the Irish border in Co Armagh on Monday.
Mr Davis told the committee it was his “hope” that the first trade deal could come into force the day after the UK leaves.
Asked if there was a risk of Britain staying in the customs union for an indefinite period while an problems with customs were resolved, he replied: “I do not expect the solution to that to be extension of membership of the customs union.
“I would view that on my part as a failure.”
The Brexit Secretary insisted the deal that is agreed by October would be “substantive”.
“We will be voting for a bill of £35 - £39 billion. People want to know on the other side what we are getting in exchange.
“The hardest time I’m going to have in October is people saying ‘what have we got for this?’”
He dismissed suggestions that discussions about future trade arrangements had halted because of problems to find a solution to the Irish border problem.