Brexit deal will ‘pay full regard’ to relationship with Ireland

British Labour MP Hilary Benn says deal on exiting EU should uphold Belfast Agreement

Hilary Benn: “I absolutely do not want to see a return of a hard Border.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Hilary Benn: “I absolutely do not want to see a return of a hard Border.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


The United Kingdom’s negotiating approach to leaving the European Union will fully take into account the importance of its relationship with Ireland, the chairman of the British parliamentary committee on Brexit has said.

Labour MP Hilary Benn was elected chairman of the select committee on Brexit in October. Its 21 members, drawn from all parties, will endeavour to make recommendations to parliament on how best to proceed with the historic split, and to deal with the myriad issues that arise.

Speaking during a visit to Dublin, Mr Benn said the deal that would be negotiated would pay full regard to the significant relationship between Ireland and the UK. He said it should uphold and respect the Belfast Agreement.

“I absolutely do not want to see a return of a hard Border,” he added.

On the common travel area, he said it predated membership of the EU for both Ireland and the UK. He said the UK had given a commitment that it would be sustained, but added he was of the view it “obviously has to be part of any agreement.”

Transitional period

He said the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier wanted talks concluded by 2018 to allow the European Parliament time to consider the deal.

He questioned if that would that give sufficient time to negotiate Britain leaving the EU and to also negotiate a new post-Brexit agreement.

“Can you do both?” he asked. “Personally I have my doubts going on the complexity and the myriad of issues to be considered. Would it be sensible to go for a transitional arrangement?”

Mr Benn said that article 50, which sets out how a member state can leave the EU, will be triggered by the British parliament irrespective of the outcome of the current appeal before its supreme court on whether the government should be allowed to do so.

He said that the case was about “whose finger was on the trigger” when article 50 occurred, not about reversing the decision of June’s referendum.

Crisis in confidence

Mr Benn was his party’s spokesman on foreign affairs until he was sacked with others by leader Jeremy Corbyn last June, and was on the losing side of the leadership battle that ensued.

Asked about his his view on the Labour Party, he stressed it was time for unity.

“We have a big task on our hands. That’s where we need to focus our vigour and energy. How do you win?

“You win because people look at problems of the world and their community and think of their hopes and aspirations of a better future and they look at their political party and they say are they in tune with me?

“That’s how we won in 1997 and how we won in 1945,” he said.