British will not accept plan threatening UK integrity – Raab

UK’s Brexit secretary stops short of ruling out customs checks conducted in Irish Sea

British Brexit secretary Dominic Raab (centre) during his visit to Warrenpoint Port in Co Down on Friday. Photograph: Warrenpoint Port/PA Wire

British Brexit secretary Dominic Raab (centre) during his visit to Warrenpoint Port in Co Down on Friday. Photograph: Warrenpoint Port/PA Wire

 

The British government would never sign up to proposals that would threaten the economic, constitutional and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has said after a visit to Northern Ireland.

However, Mr Raab stopped short of ruling out customs checks taking place in the Irish Sea after the UK leaves the European Union.

During his visit to the North on Friday, Mr Raab visited the Irish Border, Warrenpoint Port in Co Down and Larne Harbour in Co Antrim. He met business groups in Newry and held separate talks with representatives of the DUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP, UUP and Alliance Party at Stormont House.

Media access to the visit was restricted to just three broadcasters. Mr Raab was accused by Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard of acting like a “thief in the night” for not engaging more broadly.

In a statement issued by his department, Mr Raab said his government would not accept any Brexit proposals that “threaten the economic or constitutional integrity” of the UK. “The deal we strike with the EU must avoid a hard border and work for all parts of the the community in Northern Ireland.”

Asked during an interview with the BBC about not definitively ruling out any new regulatory checks on goods coming from Northern Ireland into Britain, Mr Raab said he was “not going to conduct a running commentary on negotiations”.

Frictionless trade

He added: “But we have been very clear that all the business considerations, whether it’s the East/West trade or the North/South trade, must be protected...We want frictionless trade with the EU. We want to preserve the internal market within the United Kingdom...”

DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds, who do not want customs or regulatory barriers between the North and the rest of the UK, rejected the suggestion that the British government was preparing to “throw the DUP under the bus” regarding an Irish Sea border. They noted the DUP’s confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Conservatives at Westminster.

“The government is well aware of the importance of the current arrangements they have with us,” Mr Dodds said.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the British government of taking part in a “box-ticking exercise” and of jeopardising the Belfast Agreement. She said Sinn Féin left Mr Raab “in no doubt the view right across Irish politics, North and South, with the exception of DUP, is we need to act in a responsible way”, adding that “to offer anything short of an operable enduring backstop is unacceptable”.