Belfast Telegraph

Customs officials will be targeted if there's no deal, warns Lady Hermon

By Richard Wheeler

The government has won the latest Commons votes over key Brexit legislation - amid warnings that dissident republicans would target border officials if there is no deal.

Majorities ranging from 20 to 28 helped ministers ensure the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill remains unamended after five days of MPs examining it line by line, although further battles await in the final three days before Christmas.

North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon had attracted Conservative support for her proposal to make the commitment to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement clearer in the Bill although she later decided against forcing a vote.

Her decision came after Brexit minister Robin Walker offered to meet her to discuss the issue further and also urged her to work with the government to ensure the agreement is "respected as we moved forward".

Lady Hermon opened proceedings by issuing a direct warning to Tory MPs about the consequences of a hard border, which she argued would "inevitably" exist between Northern Ireland and the Republic if the UK and EU failed to agree a deal.

She said the UK government had a "moral" responsibility to take care of all officials, including those from HM Revenue and Customs, PSNI and UK Border Force.

The Bill seeks to transfer European law into British law, and says it may not amend or repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998 - which is underpinned by the agreement.

Lady Hermon said she believed the wording was technically correct but questioned what it meant, insisting the language must be clearer in stating its commitment to the principles of the agreement.

She told the Commons: "It's an absolute nonsense, it is so reckless and so dangerous because dissident republicans ... are active, they're dangerous, they're utterly ruthless."

Lady Hermon added: "In the event of no deal, we certainly face a hard border and dissident republicans will regard PSNI officers, HMRC officers and UK border officials as legitimate targets.

"I don't want that on my conscience and I don't believe for one moment the Prime Minister wants that either, or the government."

Earlier, DUP MP Nigel Dodds claimed Lady Hermon was viewed as "being on the side of the Dublin government" over Brexit issues.

Conservative former cabinet minister Ken Clarke had challenged the DUP to confirm further details about why they objected to a proposal for post-Brexit border arrangements.

Lady Hermon said she hoped progress had been made between the government and DUP, adding: "If I'm not right I'm sure one of the members for the DUP will quickly be on their feet and contradict me, and they haven't."

Mr Dodds intervened at this point to ask: "Could she answer the question posed by (Mr Clarke) when he said 'do you accept, as he does, that it's a good idea to have regulatory convergence and common rules between Northern Ireland and the Republic'.

"Could she give a straight answer to that because many in Northern Ireland now view her as being on the side of the Dublin government on these issues."

A shout of "shameful" could be heard from one MP, with others groaning at Mr Dodds' final remark.

Lady Hermon replied: "I am a unionist and I am not in the pocket and I'm not propping up and have not spoken to the Dublin government, and I strongly resent the implication in his question that I was."

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