Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland 'at centre of UK universe,' says Rees Mogg - UK won't 'sacrifice' union for EU deal, says Hammond

By Jonathan Bell

Chancellor Philip Hammond has said the Government won't "sacrifice" the UK for a trade deal with the UK, while leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg likened Northern Ireland's place in the union as akin to the centre of the universe.

Speaking ahead of his Tory party conference speech, the chancellor said any "super-Canada" style trade deal - favoured by Boris Johnson - was not available from the EU unless his government was prepared to separate Northern Ireland with a different regime and negotiate on behalf of Great Britain only - effectively seeing a border created down the Irish sea.

The EU and Canada have a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) reducing most tariffs to zero, having agreements in place on protecting goods and services and using technology for border checks which has been seen as a possible template for a Brexit deal.

Mr Hammond said: "Speaking for myself and also I know for the Prime Minister, the most important thing for us is the union of our four nations in the UK. We are not going to sacrifice our United Kingdom at the behest of any bureaucrat in Brussels."

He said a no Brexit deal would be better than any deal which divided the UK.

Mr Hammond said he believed there was "a high chance" a version of the Prime Minister's Chequers plan would be agreed with the EU, saying he was "not having sleepless nights" over the risk of a no-deal Brexit.

Meanwhile, arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg also rejected any idea of a sea border resulting in the final exit agreement with the EU stressing he was passionate about the UK.

"My country is the United Kingdom and this is not to do with the DUP supporting the Conservatives," he told the BBC.

"We are the Conservative and Unionist party, no Conservative would do anything to harm the union and that crucially includes Northern Ireland.

"It's as much a part of my country as Somerset and I can't say anything more than that because Somerset is the centre of the universe in any sensible appraisal," he added.

Mr Rees-Mogg also said large-scale projects such as a bridge between Ireland and Great Britain - as mooted by Mr Johnson - may not be worth the huge investment in the end.

Responding on Twitter Sinn Fein Brexit spokesman John O'Dowd highlighted the differences between Northern Ireland and Somerset.

"I didn’t know Somerset in England had a referendum built into its legal constitution allowing it to leave the Union when a majority votes to do so," the MLA tweeted.

"Good luck to the People’s Republic of Somerset."

In his Daily Telegraph column Boris Johnson said there did not need to be a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic for the EU to ensure "the integrity of the single market".

While conceding there would need to be some extra procedures, he said they could be carried out away from the border "as they are, very largely, today".

The former foreign secretary said arrangements could be made to ensure the border works practically and businesses can use it smoothly and without hassle.

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