‘Carving out’ North from UK post-Brexit an ‘absolute deal breaker’

Leading anti-Brexit MP tells conference that boundary in the Irish Sea ‘won’t happen’

Former European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso: “The creativity of lawyers is boundless.” Photograph: Getty Images

Former European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso: “The creativity of lawyers is boundless.” Photograph: Getty Images

 

Any attempt to “carve out” Northern Ireland from the UK leaving it under EU economic rules post-Brexit would be an “absolute deal breaker”, pro-Remain Tory MP Dominic Grieve has said.

The former Conservative attorney general told a conference in Dublin that the possibility of there being a “boundary down the Irish Sea” after the UK leaves the EU “won’t happen”.

Mr Grieve, a leading anti-Brexit figure in the Conservative Party, made his remarks as the EU and UK struggle to agree on how to avoid a hard border in Ireland, leaving only the so-called “backstop” option that would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union and single market post-Brexit.

The former advocate general for Northern Ireland, who wants a second public vote on the final Brexit vote, told the Institute of International and European Affairs conference that the UK was heading for “a major political crisis” in the autumn on the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

One possible outcome from the crisis was that the British people could vote again on Brexit and “could potentially change their minds”.

Backlash

Mr Grieve warned that if pressure to find a solution to the Border issue was being “over-used” in Brexit negotiations, it would risk creating a backlash from moderate unionists in Northern Ireland.

There was a total lack of understanding in the UK about “the social aspects of the Border”, and how Irish people may have to cross the Border to visit a GP or to go to school, he said.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the former European Commission president who was on a panel discussion with Mr Grieve, said a Brexit compromise between the EU and UK was “still possible”. He said a solution to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland after the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union could be found with creative thinking and flexibility.

“How can we find a customs union that is not the customs union but a customs union?” he said. “The creativity of lawyers is boundless.”

‘Regulatory creep’

Catherine Day, the Irish former secretary general of the European Commission, said that there would be “a degree of regulatory creep” in a post-Brexit EU without the UK putting a “foot on the brake of European integration” because a lot of other EU counties wanted more decisions to be taken by Brussels.

One positive outcome from the UK’s departure would be the end of “constant sniping and undermining of what the EU is trying to do” by the British media, which had infected the media across the EU and beyond, said Ms Day, who is now an adviser to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.