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Labour's Starmer to discuss Ireland border options

By Suzanne Breen

Labour's shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer is in Northern Ireland to meet local politicians for discussions on the British government's ongoing negotiations with the EU.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, he warned Theresa May that his party wouldn't support a Brexit deal that didn't work for everyone in Northern Ireland.

Mr Starmer will visit local businesses on the Derry-Donegal border to hear their concerns about the future before travelling to Stormont to meet the leaders of the five main political parties.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, he stressed the importance of guaranteeing there was no harder border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

It is Mr Starmer's first visit here since the end of phase one of the Brexit talks. He said: "The Prime Minister made a number of solemn commitments to Northern Ireland.

"None more important than the commitments to protect 'North-South cooperation' and 'the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls'.

"Those commitments were made 'in all circumstances'. That means there can be no rowing back. They are locked-in, even in the event of a no-deal.

"It is now incumbent on the government - and indeed on all of us - to devise and advance proposals for our future relationship with the EU that are consistent with the solemn commitments made last month."

Mr Starmer said transitional Brexit arrangements, whereby the UK would remain in the single market and in a customs union with the EU, were vital for addressing "the complex questions that arise in Northern Ireland".

"The clock is ticking. The Prime Minister has just eight weeks to face down the divisions within her party and agree the necessary transitional arrangements by the time the EU Council meets in March. Every day she delays, she increases the uncertainty and risk of a cliff-edge Brexit," he added.

Mr Starmer said it was important that Parliament had won the right to vote on the final Brexit deal. Looking ahead to that vote, he warned: "If the deal the Prime Minister returns with does not meet our tests, then (Labour) will not support it.

"We will not back a deal that does not work for all regions and nations of the UK; and we will not back a deal that does not work for all communities in Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has warned that the UK is heading towards a "dilution of Brexit" and is in danger of remaining in the EU "in all but name".

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, she said she felt compelled to speak out. She called on Mrs May to resist "immense pressure from a range of quarters to water it down".

Ms Villiers, a prominent Leave campaigner, said she had long been a supporter of "compromise and moderation" in the Brexit negotiations.

But she added: "That said, I understand why some are becoming nervous about the current situation."

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