Ireland cannot pay for UK’s ‘failed’ negotiations – shadow Brexit secretary

Sir Keir Starmer says no deal would be ‘catastrophic’ for Ireland

Sir Keir Starmer: ‘The message I hope to send the prime minister is that Ireland cannot pay the price of your failed negotiating strategy’ Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty

Sir Keir Starmer: ‘The message I hope to send the prime minister is that Ireland cannot pay the price of your failed negotiating strategy’ Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty

 

Ireland cannot pay the price of a no-deal Brexit as a result of Theresa May’s “failed negotiating strategy”, the UK’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said.

Speaking on a visit to Dublin, the Labour MP said Mrs May’s “reckless” red lines of exiting the EU customs union and single market were “far too extreme” from the outset and made it almost impossible to reach a deal that keeps the “solemn commitment of no hard border in Northern Ireland. ”

Failing reach a deal on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU by the country’s exit in March 2019 would be “catastrophic” for Ireland and he sensed “palpable” anxiety in Ireland about this happening, he said.

“There is a very high anxiety across the UK but particularly in Ireland about the prospect of a ‘no deal’ because it would be catastrophic for the UK but also catastrophic for Ireland,” he told The Irish Times.

“The message I hope to send the prime minister is that Ireland cannot pay the price of your failed negotiating strategy.”

The EU and UK are deadlocked over an agreement to be included in a withdrawal agreement that covers the so-called backstop – a commitment made by both sides in December 2017 that an open border will be maintained on the island of Ireland if the issue is not resolved in a post-Brexit trade deal.

On his two-day visit to Dublin Sir Keir attended a meeting on Tuesday hosted by the British Irish Chamber of Commerce to hear from Irish businesses about how they would be affected by Brexit.

He told this newspaper that the EU and UK must be flexible and look for “a form of words” on the backstop if an agreement is to be reached to avoid a hard Irish border and a “no-deal Brexit.”

The Labour politician, a former human rights adviser to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, believes that the best way to ensure no hard border re-emerging on the island of Ireland was for the UK to maintain a customs union and a close relationship with the EU single market.

Westminster consensus

There was a general consensus at Westminster that there should be a commitment to no hard border.

“There are some that are irresponsible and casual about it that pretend that it’s an exaggerated or not a real problem but the vast majority of parliamentarians are very serious about that commitment,” he said.

Responding to the view of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Micheal Barnier that a Brexit deal could be agreed within two months, Sir Keir said that it would be “very difficult” in that timeframe.

He cited the deep divisions within the Conservative Party as a fundamental problem for Mrs May.

“The difficulty that the prime minister will face is that if she edges towards an agreement with the EU that involves further concessions by her, that will cause even greater problems within her own party so it exacerbates the problem that she has got,” he said.

The Labour MP rejected a deal similar to Canada’s free trade agreement with the EU or Norway’s participation in the single market as a member of the European Economic Area.

“We need a deal that is tailored to the UK. The UK economy is different to the Norwegian economy and the deal would have to reflect that,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that some of the characteristics of these other deals would be in the final agreement but I think it’s better to negotiate a model that’s tailored to the needs and requirements of the EU and the UK in that specific relationship.”