Britain will not accept Brexit deal with Irish Sea border, Raab says

Cabinet secretary claims British parliament is ‘unionist’ and will defend UK’s ‘integrity’

 Britain’s Brexit secretary  Dominic Raab at Downing Street in London. File photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Britain’s Brexit secretary Dominic Raab at Downing Street in London. File photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

 

The British parliament – including Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs – will not accept a Brexit deal that includes a customs border in the Irish Sea, the British Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has said.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Raab rejected the charge that prime minister Theresa May’s reliance on DUP votes at Westminster meant that she listened more closely to the voice of one community in Northern Ireland than to the other.

He pointed to the fact that Labour and the Liberal Democrats had joined the Conservatives in backing Amendments to legislation that ruled out a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“You don’t just have a unionist government, you have unionist parliament. And actually one of the few things I’m confident about is that parliament would not accept any deal that would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom. And actually I think it is far deeper than just the government or the government’s relationship to the DUP, and I think there’s evidence for that if you look at those votes and those debates,” he said.

Mr Raab said he welcomed efforts to “de-dramatise” the issue of the Border but will not accept a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of EU leaders in Salzburg on Wednesday, Mr Raab said it was sensible to think about how checks could be conducted away from the Border.

Revised protocol

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has offered to change the draft protocol on Northern Ireland in the Brexit withdrawal agreement to address Britain’s constitutional sensitivities.

The EU is also looking at the possibility of checking goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in factories, at ports on the British side of the Irish Sea and on vessels. No checks would be required on goods moving from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

“What I’m not going to do is prevent or say that we will not entertain any proposals, at least to consider in relation to anything, because actually we ought to be trying to at least listen to what the other side is saying.

“But our position remains that we couldn’t see a customs border down the Irish Sea and that the economic and the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom needs to be respected,” Mr Raab said.

Yesterday, Irish Government sources forcefully denied reports in the British press that the EU was examining how technology could be used to solve the Border problem.

And Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that “whether technology can help east-west trade is a different question to making the checks as simple and as de-dramatised as possible, but that is a matter for the negotiating teams”.

Mr Coveney is to brief Cabinet on preparations for Brexit when the Government meets this morning. It is expected that Ministers will approve the hiring of 450 customs officials and agricultural and environmental inspectors to be in place before the end of the year.

Ministers will also be told that Dublin Port intends to begin the construction of 30 inspection bays for trucks, a border control post for live animals as well as administrative buildings for additional staff. An area of 7.5 acres will be set aside for containers which need to be checked by officers.