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Former Northern Ireland Secretary warns 'Irish border must not block Brexit'

Owen Paterson. (Victoria Jones/PA)
Owen Paterson. (Victoria Jones/PA)
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Former Secretary of State Owen Paterson has said the Irish border issue must not be allowed to impede a successful Brexit.

Mr Paterson said that it would not make economic sense to introduce a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Conservative MP Paterson served as the Northern Ireland Secretary from 2010 to 2012.

Writing in The Guardian Mr Paterson said that it was time for Theresa May to "chuck Chequers" and reach a deal with the European Union.

He said that it was not worth securing "frictionless trade" with the European Union if the UK would still be bound to EU rules and laws.

Mr Paterson said that the chequers plan ignored the fact that there was already a "seamless border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that was managed through technical and administrative procedures.

"It’s clear that many people have an outdated vision of borders – some still seem to imagine customs posts manned by officers in tricorn hats and knee breeches, lowering striped poles to stop stagecoaches, inspecting barrels of brandy with wooden ladles," he wrote.

Mr Paterson said that the UK only inspects 4% of all imports and the Republic of Ireland only 1% .

He rejected EU Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier's view that a physical border would be needed for such checks and said that checks could be between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland rather than in the Irish Sea.

"It simply would not, therefore, make sense for Northern Ireland to introduce frictions with the UK internal market. Equally absurd is the idea that the whole of the UK should, in effect, remain in the single market and the customs union to “solve” the problem," Mr Paterson wrote.

He said that introducing a border in the Irish Sea would be a "clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement's principle of consent".

Mr Paterson said there was no need for any "new physical infrastructure at the border and no reason to hold up a free trade agreement".

"Fraud or smuggling can be addressed by effective co-operation by authorities on both sides of the border – who already co-operate to tackle smuggling of drugs, cigarettes, fuel and alcohol – without suggesting that border checks would make their efforts more effective," he wrote.

Mr Paterson called on Prime Minister May to ditch the Chequers deal and take up the Canada +++ deal offered by European Council President Donald Tusk.

Mrs May said that the Canada-like plan would not solve the Irish border issue as it would require a visible, physical border in Northern Ireland because of extra checks on goods.

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